Category Archives: Relationship

When to Network

I think we have all seen the statistics that say when we are out looking for a new position that it will be the people you know that are going to be the most valuable resources when in comes to identifying and landing that new role. For those of you who may not have seen the statistics, they show that between seventy and eighty percent of all new positions are found via networking. With estimates of up to seventy percent of all positions no longer being advertized, whether you are currently in a role and looking to move, or are already between positions and are looking for your next assignment, it is going to be your business associates, friends and acquaintances that will probably be responsible for your next role. I think that this sort of information clearly demonstrates that while what you may know is important, it will be who you know that will help you identify your next position.

Most of us have a tendency to think about our networks only when it comes time for us to start looking for a new assignment. While this might be the necessary time to exercise a network, is it the optimum time to be exercising the network?

I personally have been through multiple business changes. My son thinks my biggest change probably occurred when the Chicxulub meteor struck and wiped out my first cretaceous network. That fact did not however dissuade him from asking for help with his physics home work last night.

Meteors notwithstanding, I have found that for me the best time to network is not when I am in a search mode but rather when other people are in a search mode. When others are in a search mode they are already reaching out. In any network there will be those that respond and those that for whatever reason (to busy, not interested, etc.) that will not. I have made it a policy to always respond. I have found that it not only puts me in touch with my own network, it puts me in touch with the networks of others.

Networking is about creating links with others that may be two or three times (or more) removed from our own spheres of relationships. We already know who we know. It is by helping them that we get connected to the people that they know. By helping someone you not only confirm an existing relationship directly with that person, you establish a relationship with all the other people that person knows.

My dad, who I seem to give an increasing amount of attributions to, used to tell me:

“Never miss an opportunity to put the universe in your debt.”

I think this is his spin on the older version of:

“What goes around comes around.”

The latter phrase has a decidedly negative connotation associated with revenge or retribution for a previous bad behavior done against someone, whereas the former phrase is more associated with doing the first good deed for someone in the expectation that future good deeds will be done for you. In other words the best networking can be done in a “pay it forward” sort of mode.

Such is the essence of networking. Doing the first good deed is an excellent way to get and keep your network engaged. It gets to the point where the consideration of future good deeds coming back your way becomes secondary. I personally am not the best at asking for help, but I try to be pretty good at offering it. If you only network when you need something from your network, then that is the type of behavior that will quickly become associated with you.

The value of a network comes from being able to access it. The best way to access it is to be bringing something to it. Passing along position leads to others, or potential candidates for positions to recruiters, or just responding to general questions and requests for information rapidly generates a good receptivity when it is “your turn” to ask for help. Not everyone will reciprocate. That is human nature. But there will be many who feel and operate the way you do who will respond.

I have read several articles where successful business leaders have looked at themselves as the stewards of their business. Not surprisingly many of the leaders that I have had the opportunity to network with have looked at their networks the same way. They focus on the value that they bring to the system by enabling others to connect.

I guess it is appropriate to note that the network does not owe you a new position. You have to earn that. That is where the “what you know” part of the adage comes into play. You should not impose on your network to provide you with a new position, but rather look at it as connecting you with the opportunity to compete for a new position, as there will undoubtedly be others who are also in the market for something new.

Jerry Goldstein, the former CEO at Scott’s Liquid Gold is attributed as the author of the quote:

“Good fortune is when preparation meets opportunity.”

An active network, or better, a network that you are active in is one of the best ways to get connected to or “meet” an opportunity. It is obviously up to us to be prepared for such an event.

Verbal Volume and Value

The “conversation” is a key aspect in business. That statement should elicit a collective “Duh!” from all those that read this. I think I am going to go a little bit deeper here. With all the electronic communications, email, Instant Messaging, Texting, etc. I think we may have lost some of our ability to have a viable and valuable conversation. Certainly it appears that some of the rules for conversations have changed, or perhaps better said they are now being ignored.

And it is not just conversations that I am going to address. It can be conferences, consultations, deliberations, dialogs, dissertations, disputes, discourses, meetings and reviews. You name it. Any place or time where people verbally exchange ideas is going to be the topic here.

That was some pretty nifty work with a Thesaurus, don’t you think?

The interesting point about electronic communications is that everyone is essentially equal. We all get to use the same electrons and bits and bytes in our electronic communications. We can all use CAPITAL LETTERS when we want to yell or make a point. It is almost impossible to interrupt anyone in an electronically communicated discussion. We can all use as many words as we want or like when positing our comments to each other. We can all ignore what someone else has written and blithely go on about our agenda in the electronic conversation as if the other participants had not said a thing of value. There are however some basic rules such as name calling and cursing are probably not viewed as entirely acceptable to name a couple, for electronic communication conduct, but by and large everyone gets to play as long as they play nicely, share, bring their own crayons and don’t color outside the lines, too much.

In short it is a pretty fair forum for discussion. However it is not real time and it is relatively slow.

Now let’s go to the real time, high speed, human to human, interactive discussion, verbal version of communications. It’s called a conversation or maybe even a discussion. The electronic discussion rules definitely don’t apply here. At least I don’t think they do. And sometimes this seems to have put me at an apparent disadvantage when it comes to dealing with those people who seem to think that it is okay to use the verbal equivalent of of some of the electronics conversation rules of conduct.

There are those that will use the verbal equivalent of underlining, bold or CAPITAL LETTERS, ie. Yelling or raising their voice in the discussion to make their point at almost any time. There are also those that will employ the verbal equivalent of not reading the other participants messages before sending their own. This is usually demonstrated by their interrupting when they have something to say while someone else is already talking. And then there are those that will engage in the verbal equivalent of trying to monopolize all of the available electrons, bits and bytes for communications. The idea here being that if they never stop talking you do not have the opportunity to present your positions, ideas or arguments and you lose by forfeit.

What is also interesting to me is that it is not three different kinds of people that employ these types of conversational domination. It is usually just one kind of person that employs these three conversational tactics.

It is also an incredible bore.

I am by no means the best of conversationalists. I do try to have relevant information and input, and I am not afraid to disagree on points of content. I will almost always try to wait for someone to stop or pause before I try to take up my side of the conversation. I also work pretty hard at not yelling as I have found that it usually doesn’t improve the effectiveness of the content I am trying to communicate.

What has me concerned is the apparent number of people who DO NOT feel the same way about verbal communications as I do.

It seems all too often that there are those that are applying their electronic communications protocols to their verbal communications interactions. They will interrupt. They will speak louder so that they can talk over the top of your discussion points. They will attempt to overwhelm the conversation just in the sheer volume of verbiage that they will put forth, effectively limiting the available time for your input.

It’s either that or they are just effectively being rude.

I was recently in a discussion where one of the participants was employing all of the aforementioned tactics for dominating the conversation. They wouldn’t listen. They would interrupt. They ran on and on and wouldn’t allow the opportunity for anyone else to provide input.

I was at one point both impressed and awed by that capability. Not so much the content, which was by my reckoning just management type blather, but the ability to inhale in such a way as to not interrupt their ability to keep talking. I surmised that they had either mastered the ability to inhale through their ears while still talking, or alternatively had an extra internal air bladder organ of some sort (similar to the air bladder that is used by someone who is playing the bagpipes) where they would use it to keep talking while they inhaled.

The point I guess I am trying to get to here is that trying to dominate a conversation really does no one any good, and it will probably just make people write strange things about you (in their Blogs and other places). Having a predisposed agenda or solution in reality negates the value of a discussion. It is reasonable to have a position that you want to either put forth of alternatively defend, but interrupting, talking over, or just outright ignoring other parties to the discussion removes everyone from the discussion.

It becomes less than a discussion or a discourse. Possibly more like a diatribe.

Turning up the volume of what you have to say (being louder than everyone else) doesn’t make your opinion better or position stronger. Increasing the volume of what you are saying (saying far more than anyone else) doesn’t make what you are saying any more convincing. Value comes from the resolving of differences, not the subverting or overwhelming of everyone else’s opinion.

A small hint here. If you are in a discussion and you recognize that not many other people are talking, there is a good chance that you are being “that person”.

There is an old quote (there is always an old quote for just about everything). Epictetus, the ancient Greek philosopher said:

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

It is probably a good rule to follow if you want to have a healthy and mutually valuable discussion.

When Friends Resign

A friend of mine resigned a while ago, and I don’t know if I have consciously or unconsciously avoided thinking about it as a topic. Enough time has passed where I think I can look at it at least reasonably objectively.

I have often talked about the conflicted feelings that occur as a result of corporate layoffs. On the one hand there is compassion for those that seemingly through no fault of their own are tapped on the shoulder and told that they don’t have a job anymore. On the other hand there is the necessity for the company to adapt, resize and redefine itself for the new market and financial realities that it is facing. The resulting guilt, fear and uncertainty of the accompanying survivor’s syndrome for the employee’s that remain after watching their friends leave, are detrimental to both the employees and the company. Hence the evolution of the preferred corporate approach of making and implementing the changes quickly so that the focus can return to the business at hand also as quickly as possible.

But what happens when your friends leave of their own accord?

There are also many conflicted feelings that occur when a friend leaves, but I think they are slightly different. In a layoff, there was no choice. Friends are told they no longer have a job. When friends resign we all know that they made a cognitive decision. It was their choice. In the former situation there is a little “there but for the grace go I…” and a little of the afore mentioned survivors guilt. In the latter we all ask: What do they know that I don’t?

Successful business has a lot to do with good leadership and the accepted team approach to achieving the goals. Not everybody can be the leader, but everybody needs to demonstrate leadership. Not everybody will be in full agreement with the leaders, but everybody needs to align with the designated objectives. There is always a mixture of satisfaction and gratification along with frustration and dissatisfaction in all that we do in business. It is how well we are able to balance these conflicting feelings and emotions that will usually have a lot to do with our individual and team success.

The usual process is to create the team, assign the roles, define the objectives and begin their pursuit. The team members begin to mesh and friendships inevitably arise. New teams, roles and objectives will come, but the friendships that are established usually remain. These relationships evolve into our “networks” and support systems.

These are the people that we go to lunch with and who will listen to us when we have not yet fully internalized the directions and objectives that we now have.

When they decide to leave it makes us all take a moment to pause and reflect. The inevitable question that comes to mind is: Why did they decide to go when I have not? Have I missed something?

It has been my experience that career change decisions are invariably made in isolation of any friendships. Most of my friends who have made these types of changes did not tell me or consult with me before they made them. The contemplation of any career change is a personal thing and not to be taken lightly. The support or opposition of a friend to a possible change can modify both individual’s behaviors today and in the future.

Plus, once it is spoken of, even as a remote possibility, the potential career change secret is out. The sharing of a potential career change opportunity or decision could also cause issues with peers and management in any current assignment. If the potential change is not realized, the issues caused by the consideration of it would continue to remain.

In speaking after the fact to friends who have left in the past, I have found that they normally leave for basically one of two general reasons: to increase their satisfaction and gratification related to what they do, or to decrease their level of frustration or dissatisfaction related to their current roles and situations. The first reason is looking forward to something better. The second is looking back at something worse.

The increase in satisfaction can come in the form of more money, promotions, more responsibility, titles, etc. This can be seen as part of the normal progress in a career. As one matriculates up the management line, the number of available “next step” positions becomes increasingly small. Sometimes it may be viewed as necessary to step outside of the current structure to keep a career moving.

The decrease in dissatisfaction can come in the form of the desire for a more stable work environment (no prospect of layoffs) better alignment and utilization of individual talents or better alignment between work and management styles. Misalignments in strategies, cultures and management styles can contribute to and accumulate dissatisfaction to the point where an exit may be required just maintain some semblance of sanity.

In many instances it seems to have ended up being a combination of all of the above.

There is normally also some sort of minimum differential barrier that must be overcome in order to get someone to decide to leave their current role. This could be considered the “barrier to exit” (as opposed to an economist’s barrier to entry). Most everyone will put up with some amount dissatisfaction in their current role. Most everyone will also put up with some lack of satisfaction in their current role. This can be due to the time, effort, pay level, etc. that has them vested to one level or another in their current role. Please notice that lack of satisfaction and dissatisfaction are in fact different. The lack of happiness doesn’t mean that you are unhappy. It just means that you are not happy. I think you can go a lot longer not being happy than you can go being unhappy.

But how much does it take to cause someone to go past the barrier to exit tipping point? Again it seems that there are many factors. Careers and career trajectories, corporate positions, directions and performance, and time, as well as the status of the greater employment and opportunity markets will all come into play in either lowering or raising the barrier to exit.

I think that this is probably a long winded way of saying that as individuals we will all react differently to the stimuli, both the positive and the negative associated with our positions. We all create our own barriers to exit. Sometimes there is a desire to leave, but no opportunity elsewhere. Sometimes there are opportunities elsewhere but no desire to leave. Either case could be considered a high barrier to exit situation.

I think we all either consciously or unconsciously keep track of our own barriers. It is only when someone we know has consciously overcome their barriers and resigned that causes us to pause and question. We wonder if our barriers are too high and are we missing something. We also wonder if theirs were too low and were they too rash.

I believe the answer is that anyone that makes a career decision either to stay or to go, has probably made the right decision for them. It is not good to judge your own happiness based on the happiness of someone else. It is probably equally inappropriate to judge your satisfaction with your position or career based on the position or career satisfaction of someone else. They have made a choice and are probably happy with it, just as you may or may not have made a different choice and should be happy (or at least not unhappy) with it.

Still, you can’t help but wonder.

I wish you fair winds and following seas, my friend.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Unlike the shows on television, business does not come with its own laugh track. You have to make your own. That doesn’t mean that business isn’t funny. It is. I mean both funny (ha ha) as well as funny (strange). There usually isn’t an audience around to tell you when you are supposed to laugh. You need to be able to figure that out on your own.

Perhaps I am a product of my time and generation in that I grew up watching many of the best observational comedians around. Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Jerry Seinfeld and the late great Robin Williams all looked at various aspects and idiosyncrasies in the world and brought out the humor and sometimes the absurdity involved therein.

I wish I had their eye for the detail and comedy that they found and related associated with everyday life. I don’t. Fortunately, I have found throughout my business career that I usually didn’t need their incisive eye for finding humor in the subtleties of business. The humor associated with business is usually never that subtle.

We all have the tendency to immerse ourselves in our problems and issues of the day. This is both a good thing in that it enables us to focus and concentrate on solving the problem, but it is a bad thing in that it has a tendency to enable us to take ourselves and our “issues” almost too seriously. When we do that we not only miss out on the humor associated with the work, we also tend to miss out on the enjoyment of the job as well.

I think the key here is that we all need to reserve a little piece of ourselves to be our own audience. We need to be able to be able to metaphorically stand off to the side and watch our own interactions. As we have seen on the afore mentioned television shows, it is the audience that will provide us with the laugh track and tell us when we are supposed to laugh at something funny, including ourselves.

Let me provide an example of how humor can raise its head at the most unsuspected of times.

A long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away it now seems) I worked in a business unit where there was a significant amount of employee dissatisfaction. The business unit manager was a little bit of an autocrat (…okay, a lot of an autocrat, being of an even older business school than me at the time), but it had seemed to be a style that he had had success with. After all, he had risen to the top post of the business unit. Even so he understood that he needed to address the employee satisfaction issue, so he took an employee survey. He wanted to know why the employees were dissatisfied.

There is an old proverb: “If you truly want honesty, don’t ask questions you don’t really want the answer to.”

There would then to be held an all hands meeting where the results of the survey were going to be reviewed and the dissatisfaction issue solved. At the meeting it was revealed that the number one issue associated with the employee dissatisfaction was “Management did not listen to employee input on issues.” It seems that everyone wanted to be involved in contributing to the solutions associated with the business directions and issues.

There was a general murmur of agreement from the crowd accompanied by many nodding heads. The crux of the issue had been identified. The group was now awaiting the response and resolution. We were about to get somewhere.

The unit manager then said: “I don’t think that management does not listen to the input of the team. I think we should move on to the next topic while we review this one off-line”

I think this is where I had my first audience laugh track moment.

I looked around to see what everyone else’s reaction would be to what we had just heard. To tell you the truth it seemed as though there was a mixed set of reactions. Some were nodding, some were scowling and some were just blinking as if they were still trying to process what they had just heard.

There have been other similar moments that I recall:

There was the time the manager asked me why I had made a decision and taken action before consulting with them. I explained than the manager had specifically stated that he wanted his staff to show initiative and take actions and that had been the impetus for my behavior. He then explained that he wanted his staff to show initiative and take action AFTER they had consulted with him as to what initiative to show and action to take. These things had to be managed.

I also can remember a co-worker lamenting that she did not feel that management took her or her opinions seriously enough. This is a feeling that many new hires or less experienced employees are apt to feel. Of course she made this comment from her cube where every available flat surface was covered with crystals, cast pewter unicorns and her collection of beanie-babies.

Business punch lines are not delivered with the intent of eliciting laughter. They are usually uttered in response to some unexpected yet related stimulus. Asking for input when input is not actually desired. Taking initiative when initiative may not be really wanted.

Business and the work we do are important. I understand that it is how we all make our living and support ourselves and our families. We need to take what we do seriously. It is just that we need to be somewhat more self aware in that we should not take ourselves too seriously while we are doing it. We should not stop having fun just because we are in the office.

I don’t think that we should point out these foibles as they occur for the purpose of embarrassing others or ourselves when they are committed. I think it is better to look at ourselves and enjoy what we do. In general I expect to have a good time at work. And in general, and I think at least partially because of my expectation I do have a good time at work.

Enjoyment means smiling, laughing and sharing with those around you, both at home and in the office. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be focused when necessary. It does mean that there are times and places where the unintentional and unexpected humor of the situation should be recognized and enjoyed.

Confucius, the ancient Chinese philosopher said:

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

It is interesting in that it seems he had no discernable occupation other than to write proverbs, aphorisms and sayings. What’s not to love about that job? To me it sounds like a pretty good gig if you can get it. Of course he must have been pretty good at it as we are still quoting him all these centuries later.

It does make me wonder though, with all the good proverbs he wrote that have come down to us through the ages, how many bad ones did he write that we have never heard about? No one bats a thousand, and even the best baseball players only get a hit about a third of the time.

I am pretty sure to one extent or another we all enjoy our work. If we didn’t we would probably put in more time at trying to find something else to do. I wouldn’t say that I “love” my job as there certainly have been days where I have not only felt that I worked, but also felt that I have been worked over.

I do however realize that I have fun doing what I do. I believe the teams I work with have a tendency to recognize this and have fun as well. I think everyone understands that having fun does not mean not performing. It is always more fun to achieve goals than it is to miss them. As long we all understand that and continue to take the actions required to achieve our goals I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t have some fun doing what we do.

Sometimes that means that we need to laugh with the others, at ourselves.

Answering RFPs

Most customers are pretty smart. They have to be or they don’t get to stay customers for very long. They go out of business. Ever since the first business transaction occurred where a customer gave a vendor gold (or its fiat representative, money) and in return received something they either wanted or needed, customers have been asking the eternal question:

Did I get a good deal?

The answer is invariably, maybe.

If the customer received a product or service that met their expectations and fulfilled their needs, and parted with an amount of money that still enabled them to continue operations, then they are probably not unhappy. Notice I didn’t say happy. A customer will always find room in their heart to spend less money on something. If you gave a customer their desired product for free, they would probably wonder if they should have asked for you to throw in the installation of the product for free as well.

Here in lies the rub. How does a customer get a vendor to part with their highly desirable product or service for less money? Vendors want to raise their prices. Higher prices mean better margins, better profitability, higher stock prices and eventually a larger yacht for the CEO. Keeping the CEO happy seems to be the driving force behind most business decisions these days.

The answer as to how the various customer – vendor balances are achieved lies in the market’s dynamics. If there are many people chasing or wanting the good, and relatively few suppliers, then the balance swings in the vendors favor. A good example of this phenomenon can be seen in plethora of collector car auctions that are popping up on the various television channels.

These auctions are events where we can all vicariously watch a number of rather wealthy people throw incredible amounts of money at old cars. Why are they doing that? I don’t know. I only know that when I am watching them run the price of some vintage 1960’s AC Cobra up close to seven figures, I too want that car. I don’t want to drive that car. Who would risk an accident driving a car valued at a million dollars? I would like to have that car so I could sell it for a million dollars.

Perhaps the wealthy bidders on the televised auction have already obtained their larger yachts and need another type of good to serve as the latest trophy for their success.

The point here is that there seems to be more wealthy people throwing money at old cars than there are old cars for them to throw money at. Why is that? I think it is because they are not making any more old cars, only new ones, hence there is a limited supply of old cars. But here too the economic laws of supply and demand indicate that if there are more people that want a good than there are goods (old cars) available, the price of the good will go up. This is how you get million dollar AC Cobras.

On the other side of this spectrum is the situation where there is an industry dominated by a very few customers and relatively numerous vendors contending to be one of the chosen suppliers of a good or service to them. Examples of this market structure can be seen in the automobile manufacturing or communications provider markets. These are other examples of markets that are dominated by a few very large players with many vendors contending to be suppliers to them, but these are two that we should all be familiar with.

When these customers decide that they want to buy goods or services, they also hold an auction of sorts. They hold a silent auction, with one of the prime differences being it is not the buyer who bids the highest price that wins; it is the vendor that bids the lowest price that wins. This type of scenario is called a Request For Proposal (RFP), and the really fun part of this process is that again unlike the auto auction, no one gets to know how low the others involved in the process are bidding. It’s good to be the customer in an RFP process, just as the film director Mel Brooks once said “It’s good to be King” in his movie The History of the World.

Can you imagine how much more fun it would be if car manufacturers had to go through a process like this every time you wanted to buy a car? Think about what it would be like to have car manufacturers coming to you and disclosing to you the lowest price at which they would sell you a car, without knowing what the other manufacturers are bidding. We would all probably buy more cars just for the shear pageantry and enjoyment of the process.

A customer’s RFP process is designed to do one of two things: create a process that justifies the selection of the vendor, and product that they wanted in the first place, or to reduce the vendor decision process to the lowest common denominator – price, and then choose the cheapest provider.

The RFP process enables a customer to create a specification for the good or service that they wish to obtain, and have multiple vendors submit their lowest possible price for their good or service that meets the specification. A customer can favor one vendor over other vendors in this selection process by including terms or requirements in the RFP specification that may be more advantageous to one vendor’s capabilities, or conversely have requirements that are disadvantageous to the other vendors’ capabilities.

In either event, it is the responsibility of the sales team to have previously created the relationship with the customer that will enable this sort of influence of the buying process. If you are trying to answer an RFP that does not accentuate your company’s or products advantages, your sales team has not done their job. You can usually tell this is the case by how loudly the sales team is screaming for a lower price to be included in the RFP response. You are also probably answering an RFP that does accentuate your competitions capabilities, and their sales team has done their job.

On the other end of this RFP decision process, it may be possible that the customer has in fact created their own RFP with no input from any vendors. This is a rare occurrence. If this is the case you are now in the midst of what is known as a “Price War”. This is a situation where the vendor with the lowest cost basis, or the vendor willing to take the lowest profitability margin will win the opportunity to sell their good or service to the customer.

Unless you know that you are the lowest cost supplier of the desired good or service, this is also known as a waste of time. Trying to win a price war RFP process is not usually a profitable endeavor.

The only thing worse that some unprofitable business is a lot of unprofitable business. The idea of economy of scale does not hold when it comes to unprofitable business and large RFPs.

I believe that everybody in business at one time or another has responded to an RFP. Some of us have even won them and become the selected vendor. I think that most of the times that I have been successful have been because of the influencing work that was done prior to the RFP being issued. I also think that most of the time we have all been sorry for the RFP competitions that we have won purely on price.

This probably holds true for the customers as well. If they are not willing to enable the vendor to provide their incremental or differentiate value, but only their price, then they will probably not get any incremental value in return either.

I find it even more interesting that even after all of this customer – vendor type of interaction associated with the RFP and purchase process, all the hoops that customers will create and that the vendors must leap through, and all the price discounts that will be demanded, weaseled and cajoled, the buyer will almost always refer to the selected vendor as their “Partner’.

Losing Your Cool

I lost my cool the other day. I don’t do that very often. I try to make sure I don’t do that very often. I understand that may be hard to believe, but it is true. I didn’t realize just how far I had lost my cool until after I looked up from my phone call, the source of my cool losing, and saw three people staring concernedly at me from my office door. I guess I was louder on my call than I had realized. As I sat down, calmed down and reflected, I wondered is there really a place in business for losing your cool?

I try to be for the most part a positive reinforcement type leader. When people do well, whether they are on my team or not, I try to make sure that they get the recognition and reinforcement to continue on with those desired behaviors and activities. When people miss the mark I usually try to talk with them one on one to see what changes we can make to assure that future opportunities are not missed. It’s pretty rare that I get to the point where such a vociferous interchange occurs.

On the other side of things I have also noted that there always needs to be a balance in the way you conduct your business. There needs to be a reward or upside for appropriate or desirable behavior. There must also to be a downside or penalty for undesirable behavior. It seems that the question might now be; how undesirable must the behavior be to merit so significant a negative reaction? Are there really any types of behavior in a professional environment that should engender such a negative reaction?

Looking back, I can only identify maybe one or two managers in my career that I could really say used losing their cool as a management tool or technique. They were reasonably successful as far as their career progressions went. They both progressed to the senior executive levels, and in one case beyond, but were also widely regarded as rather unpleasant individuals to deal with. I suspect that all the yelling they did had something to do with that perception.

My point with these two examples is that they “used” losing their cool as their management technique. It definitely had a startling effect the first time you witnessed it, or were unfortunate enough to have to experience it firsthand. However after that, each successive time only seemed to reinforce the unpleasant management nature of these people. The actual subsequent yelling and screaming sessions while colorful seemed to lose their impact and value. They led their teams by using the fear of not performing and then having to endure the unpleasant management technique result. It was in essence the avoidance of the negative reinforcement that drove their teams.

As I recall, it was not some of the most fun I had in my career, although I did learn about many of the management and leadership topics that I have previously related. Maybe it was actually more fun than I give it credit for. Probably not.

I think I actually lost my cool because I was frustrated at the behaviors of the people I had been dealing with, both in my team and in another group. I had been dealing with these issues for quite a while. The person on the other end of the phone line receiving my tirade was actually someone I very much respect and consider a friend. That probably played into the situation as well. It is probably harder and less rewarding to yell at a stranger than it is to yell at someone you know. The stranger wouldn’t know if they were just the unfortunate one who happened to be the straw that broke your camel’s back, or if you were just a jerk that always behaved that way. A friend can probably tell the difference. At least I hope so.

In this situation our teams seemed to have found themselves in a finger pointing, circularly intractable situation where each was questioning both the role of and value add of the other group. An unhealthy situation at best. I contacted my friend to let him know of my annoyance at the last round of communications that had transpired. He responded and let me know that he was pleased that I was annoyed by the actions of his team. Perhaps he was being jocular in his response. Perhaps not. However in my somewhat animated and frustrated state over the ongoing issues, and the inability for the two business teams to work together in any way resembling a united effort, I lost my cool.

I have discussed the need for passion in a leader. This instance has reminded me that passion can be a two edged sword. The passion that drives us on to achieve can also result in the frustration over our inability to achieve and that can cause us to lose our cool. The result is that I took it out on a friend. Did he contribute to the situation and did he bear some of the blame, possibly. But that doesn’t mean he deserved to have to put up with me as I careened into my over energized state.

As is usual, I’ll provide a couple of quotes that I think might be pretty germane to this topic. The writer and satirist Ambrose Bierce said: 

    “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”

I am really feeling that one.

Colin Powell, the retired four-star general and author said: 

    “Get mad, then get over it”

I am still working on that one.

I have sent a short note to apologize to my friend. He should not have had to put up with me in that way. I do however think that we may have broken the circular “do” loop that we were in, and can now start to make progress on the root issues causing both our and our teams frustrations. The next time I feel that frustrated, I think I will try to maintain my decorum and find a less volatile way to deal with the issue and express my displeasure. I really don’t think there is a place in the business for losing your cool.

International Organizations

Not everybody gets to work for a foreign based multinational company. Many in the US may actually go through their entire business career without having every worked for one. I have had the opportunity to actually work for three different foreign based multinationals. I think it has provided a perspective on both the similarities and the differences associated with international and domestic business processes and practices. With the continued globalization of business and organizations, that may be a healthy concept for all leaders to be familiar with. While things are obviously done differently in North America, we need to understand the perspective that it is the North American business environment that is different from the rest of the world, not the rest of the world that is different from North America.

I will attempt to generalize at least some of the differences I have encountered between the foreign based and US domestic based organizations that I have had experience with. This is always a dangerous thing to do. Generalizations are opinions that are applied to greater sample sets, based on limited sample sets. Having worked for three foreign based nationals means I have some experience with three specific instances of foreign based multi-nationals. It doesn’t mean I should generalize across all of them, but that sort of perceived limitation has never stopped me from rendering an opinion or article before.

Mark Twain is a favorite author of mine. I have quoted him in the past, and will probably do so again in the future. I am envious of his way of expressing things, and while I may not be able to write a good line, I know a good line when I steal it. Twain said:

         “All generalizations are false, including this one.”

Undaunted by that fact, I will move forward with my comments regarding foreign based multinational organizations, and how and why leaders in North America need to understand them.

There is always the push-pull, love-hate, cats-dogs sort of relationship between the corporate offices and the field offices. In domestic based organizations one of the most feared phrases to ever be heard in the field is:

         “I am from headquarters, and I’m here to help.”

I think we have all either experienced or participated in the horror stories that have ensued after hearing this phrase. It can make your blood run cold.

It’s even worse when you think you may have just heard the phrase but you cannot be sure because your brain is still trying to unscramble and translate what you think you may have heard because it was stated in such a heavy foreign accent as to make it almost unrecognizable. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Also remember that this is a person who is trying to communicate in English, which may be something other than their native language. That means that they have a working knowledge of at least two languages.  It sometimes open to interpretation whether some people who were born, live and work in the US have a full working knowledge of the native tongue.

With domestic organizations there is at least a consistency of culture, value set and approach that can be a basis for working together. In North America we know how fellow North Americans usually tend to think, or not think as the case may be. European and Asian cultures and value sets, believe it or not, are different from North American ones. I have not had the opportunity to work for an African or Australian based multinational, but I suspect there will be differences to a lesser or greater extent there as well.

What I have found is that despite North America being one of the largest markets for just about every type of product in the world, it is also the unique market in the world. What I mean by that is that I believe there are reasonable and rational similarities between the European and Asian markets in the way they conduct their business and the way they treat their employees. It is North America that is different.

A good example could be seen in the various approaches to contractual relationships. In Asia and Europe it seems that a contractual relationship is the beginning or starting point for an ongoing business relationship. Once the contract is in place both buyer and seller seem to understand that some changes will occur and will work together to adapt and modify the arrangement in a mutually satisfactory manner. In North America it seems that a contractual relationship is the end point or culmination of a business relationship. Once the contract is signed it seems to be the arbiter of all potential differences of opinion that can arise, and it is hoped that every possible contingency has been covered.

It has been my experience that in North America customers want to see working products before they buy them. This means that all potential vendors must create a competitive product and the buyer will select the one that they feel best meets their needs at the most favorable price. Admittedly this is not the method for all purchases, but since I have already discussed generalizations and the pitfalls associated with that, I will continue to go with it. Even the US Air Force wants to see a working model of the next generation aircraft from each of its potential suppliers before it decides which one it will buy. I always wondered how it could be next generation if there was already one built.

It has also been my experience to witness in Asia and Europe that customers seem to be much more willing to contract to buy a product based on a specification, with no actual working models. In Europe, several countries got together to pool resources and jointly design and build their next generation Joint Strike Fighter with nothing but a set of desired specifications to work from. They didn’t require that a working prototype be built as was required in the US. Again this is based on a small experience set, but it runs so contrary to what for the most part is accepted practice in North America I had to bring it up.

Despite these and many other business, organizational and cultural differences that can and will provide the grist for future articles, I strongly suggest and recommend that leaders spend some time in a foreign based organization. It will provide an entirely new perspective on how organizational structures, communications and cultures affect the business. In today’s increasingly global business environment, understanding business environments outside of what is considered the North American norm, and hence comfort zone, will help leaders deal with the complex problems associated with multinational business opportunities. It will enable them to understand and deal with the increasing number of non-domestic competitors that have entered or are now entering the domestic market.

 It may also help better prepare them for how to better understand, and deal with someone the next time they walk up and say:

“Ah yem fwoam haid-kwahtaihz, awn ah yem eah tew hehp yew.”

Good Advice

The topic for this blog was suggested to me by my good friend Chris D. I thought it was a great suggestion since I think we have all been through and around the “advice” circle in one direction or the other. Thanks Chris.

Advice is a funny thing. Almost everything about it seems to fall into one of two categories.  There are those people that ask for advice and those that don’t. Those that ask for it can either use it or not. There are those people that offer advice and those that don’t. There are those that only offer advice when asked, and then there are those that offer advice even when they are not asked. People who fall into that last group are usually referred to as “annoyances”.

I once heard it said that there are two types of people: Those that divide people into two types and those that don’t. I think we can all safely say that we fall into one of those categories. I have also heard it said that there are actually three types of people: Those that know how to count and those that don’t, but I have digressed a little here. I think there are also two types of people that ask for advice: Those that are genuinely asking for help with a topic or issue, and those that are not.

I am willing to help just about anybody in business. I am a big believer in Karma. What goes around, does usually in some way come back around, and I never want to miss an opportunity to try and put the Karma universe in my debt. That being said there is also a physical limit to the number of things that I can do or help with at the same time. What that means is that I don’t like to be exercised unnecessarily on business topics. If someone is going to ask me for advice and I am going to put in the effort to try and generate a reasonable and workable response on their behalf, I would like to see at least some of my “advice” effort implemented. Otherwise, why have they bothered to ask me, and why have I bothered to respond.

Usually when someone asks for advice they are indeed looking for help on how to execute one of their responsibilities or assignments. Their requests are usually reflexive in nature and pertain to how they should complete their tasks. You are asking someone “what should I do?” Some may see asking for advice as a weakness. It’s not. If you know someone that has experience or expertise in a function you need to perform, it would be foolish not to ask their advice.

Advice also comes with a couple of strings attached and they involve feedback. If you ask for advice, it is usually assumed that you will use at least some of it. You need to let the provider know what you used, and it is normally good for to say “thank you”. By the way, saying thank you seems to be a lost art. If you did not use the advice there is an implied obligation and you owe the provider an explanation of why you didn’t use it. This is a common courtesy. It is particularly important if you ever want to ask for that person’s advice again.  

If you get in the habit of asking for advice and then either ignoring it or choosing to not implement it, people will stop providing it. This is similar to the story about the boy that cried “wolf”. Eventually there really was a wolf, and after so many false alarms, no one came to help. Sometime in their business careers, everyone could use some advice. If you have the reputation for asking for advice and then ignoring it, don’t be surprised if it is not available when you really need it.

The idea here is to not unnecessarily ask for advice. It communicates that you may not know which course to take and vests the person you are asking in the outcome you choose. If you think you have a potential solution in mind but may want a little more information, or perhaps some suggestions on a topic then don’t ask for advice. Ask for an opinion. Everybody has an opinion on everything. I heard a friend once say that they had an opinion and that everyone else was entitled to it. When you ask for an opinion you are essentially asking “what would you do?” You are not directly investing them in the success of the effort, and are not usually expecting the same depth of response.

Asking for an opinion doesn’t seem to invest people in the solution the way asking for advice does. I don’t know why this is. I would guess that requested advice is deemed valuable where a requested opinion is just that; an opinion. People who ask for advice are saying that they need help. People who ask for help usually receive it. People who provide help usually like to see it received and utilized. People who are asked for and provide an opinion usually assume that you probably have some clue as to what you need to do and will not be as put off if and when you ignore their opinion.

At least in my opinion.

Survey Says…..

I got another survey today. That’s not too unusual. We all seem to be getting them more frequently.  We get them from various political entities, consumer product manufacturers, software application manufactures and just about anybody that you have bought something from that requires some sort of product registration. We get them at the office from our various suppliers and vendors, other groups from within our own organization that provide us support or a service and even our own companies will periodically survey the employees for their opinions. In short, we seem to be asking each other a lot of questions.


We need to remember this the next time we have the urge to send out a survey to anybody. If we want to survey our customers, understand that they are also customers of other companies who also want to send out surveys. If we want to send out a survey, we need to have a very clear set of goals for both the survey itself and the use of the information we are to gather. Like anything else in the organization, we need to have a very clear set of objectives for a survey for it to be of any use. We also need to demonstrate to the surveyed entity that we will do something with the information we gather that will be beneficial to them.


What is it that we want to know (that we don’t already know). Why do we want to know it. What are we going to do with it after we know it.


Too many times I have been surveyed, and then never heard another word from the surveyor. I answered the questions but in return got no value for my time. My information went somewhere, but no outward manifestation of a response was provided. Eventually I have gotten to the point where I respond to fewer and fewer surveys. Maybe that is why I seem to be getting more and more of them.


Too many times surveys become isolated onetime events where a great deal of attention seems to be showered on the entity being surveyed, and then just as quickly disappears with no specific results communicated or acted upon. If the surveyed entity recognizes that characteristic, then the survey becomes just another time consuming event for them, with no recognized or expected value.


Surveys will only have value if the surveyed entity believes that there will in fact be action taken that is hopefully beneficial to them as a result of the survey.


If you are going to survey the employees of your business (again), explain to them what the results were of the last employee survey, and what actions were taken as a result of their previous input. If you are going to survey your customers, explain what actions were taken as a result of the last survey, or if it is the first time the customer is being surveyed, explain what you have found from other customers surveys and what actions you took as a result of that information. Without this closure of the feedback loop before each new survey, and the demonstration of a response to the input, all the survey becomes is an academic fact finding activity that provided the respondent no value.


Surveys need to quantifiably provide some sort of meaningful value to those people who respond to them. That may be  why we now see so many market survey requests accompanied by some sort of product discount or payment offer. If the surveying entity isn’t going to somehow remunerate me for both my time and opinions associated with their survey, I am not going to waste my time by answering it.

I think the same is true for both employee and customer surveys. If you are not, or cannot demonstrate to the surveyed entity that you place a high enough value on their opinion to act upon it by changing your business or method of interaction with them, then it will be very difficult to get them to respond in any meaningful way, if at all.


Business relationships with customers and employees are the result of ongoing dialogs and activities. It seems that too often we take this daily interaction and feedback for granted and want to rely on the survey for our management answers. It also appears that all too often our customers and employees provide us daily feedback and opinions that we do not act upon in a timely manner. We then survey them for information, but neglect to close the loop back with them to verify what we “heard” and then explain what we did as a result of this information, even if we did take measurable action.


When no feedback is provided or visible action is taken as a result of a survey, each successive survey increasingly loses its value. The willingness of the surveyed entity, be it a customer or an employee, to respond goes down and eventually all value associated with the survey is lost. You then become just another survey amongst the numerous surveys that we all seem to get, and don’t bother to respond to.

What Would You Do ? (Part 2)

A little while ago a friend of mine called me and asked me the following question:

“A past business associate of mine is out looking for a job and has put me down as a reference. While I know times are hard and I do want to be supportive of him, he was not in my opinion a very good employee. On one hand I don’t want to give him a bad recommendation and potentially ruin his chance at a position, but on the other hand I do not want to give a report or recommendation that is not the truth. What should I do?”

This is a situation for our current times. With so much continued upheaval in the job market, I am sure that we all know multiple numbers of people who either are, or have been looking for new positions. I am also reasonably certain that although we many know multiple people who are searching for a new job, we might not be as willing or prepared to vouch for or recommend some of them as we may be for others.

So that brings up the question: What would you do if someone put you down as a reference, and you did not feel comfortable in providing a positive recommendation?

Do you respond to the person by saying that you would not feel comfortable being a reference for them? This would inevitably lead to having to explain why you would not want to provide the reference input. It might lead to hard feelings and someone who in the future might feel they have reason or position to cause you professional issues in the future. Who can truly say they know where they will be working, or who they will be reporting to in the future?

Do you accept and provide a less than glowing reference and potential derail an employment opportunity?

Do you accept and provide a less than fully truthful positive reference?

It’s at times like this that I remember what my dad has told me in the past: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

My recommendation to my friend was that if he did not want to directly respond “no” to the request, (which would probably be the proper response) then he should not to respond at all to either the request to be a reference or the request for reference input by whomever his name had been provided to. Let his inaccessibility and silence be his comment. Normally both the reference requestor and the reference input requesting entity should get the message.

People who have something positive to say about someone are normally accessible. Those who don’t have something good to say normally aren’t accessible.

I would say this course of action is the professional equivalent of the “pocket veto”. A pocket veto is a legislative maneuver in United States federal lawmaking that allows the President to indirectly veto a bill. If the president does not want to go on the record as being against a bill, he can hold it with no response until congress adjourns. His “no response” in effect kills the bill without having to take the active measure of vetoing it.

Given the situation that my friend outlined, this was my suggestion. What would you do?