Category Archives: Roles

Careers and Gigs

A new year has started and that has got me thinking again. Always a dangerous pastime for me. I watched my dad go through his career. He was and still is a scientist. One of those guys who actually conceptualized and then created things. A PhD in physics. He worked at Bell Labs and got put on permanent loan to the United States federal government for research. Later in life he went on and did some other interesting stuff. He created some forecasting capabilities to predict price movements in the commodities markets. Most recently he started to lose some of his hearing, so he created a new type of hearing aid (which he and my mom sell), and from that technology he is working on the creation of true High-Fidelity ear-buds for listening to music.

That to me was, and still is an amazing career. He will be eighty-nine next month. He is still having fun. I hear it in his voice when I talk to him.

I bring this up because I believe for the most part, that the age of the career in business as we have known it, is just about over. Most people in the workforce, and certainly those that are just entering the workforce are probably not going to be able to enjoy what has in the past been described as a career. Like everything else, the definition, and expectation of a career is changing.

It used to be that a career was built on what you learned and then how you applied it to the next opportunity or situation. You learned, you internalized, you synthesized, and you applied it elsewhere. You built, and you grew. There was an investment in you and you were vested in them.

I’m going to change gears here a little bit and talk about music, one of my other advocations. I like to play in some of the Jazz bands located around here. It has been a long road to get there. I had to learn, practice and apply what I had learned in order to get to the capability to play with some of the musicians in the area. Even then I feel as though I am barely able to keep up. I enjoy that challenge.

However, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of demand for Jazz bands. There is some, but it is a decidedly niche type of audience. What this means is that the opportunities to play for people, particularly people who specifically like and appreciate Jazz are somewhat limited. The opportunity to be a “house band” or have steady employment as a Jazz musician is pretty limited.

The opportunities to play for an audience are usually referred to as “gigs”. defines “gig” as:

a single professional engagement, usually of short duration, as of jazz or rock musicians.

So, as a Jazz musician, you are usually always looking for the next opportunity to play, or gig. Even if you currently have one, you are looking for the next one because you know that in a reasonably short period your current gig will be over, and you will need to find the next one.

I think you can see where I am going with this. also defines “gig” in the following way:

any job, especially one of short or uncertain duration

I looked back over my career and realized that I have had the opportunity to work for no less than eight major corporations. Some of the moves and changes were of my own volition. Some of the changes were due to corporate mergers and acquisitions. Some were due to corporate downsizings and changes in strategic direction.

The point I make here is that my dad worked for basically one company (Bell Labs, even while on loan to the Federal Government) for the vast majority of his career. I have considered myself nominally stably employed for the majority of my career, but even so I have worked for eight companies. I think that going forward that corporate tenures are going to continue to become shorter and shorter, either through the individual’s own volition, or the company’s.

In short, it would seem to me that business employment is going to take on many of the characteristics associated with gigs. Opportunities are going to be shorter term as both the employee and the employer begin to expect and react to the gig environment. It does not appear that there will be the longer-term commitment or investment by either the company or the employee going forward.

In other words, don’t expect a career. It will be a job. And as time goes by, it will probably be best described as a gig. You sign up, work and then sign off.

A side benefit to the company with the new gig business structure will be the corporation’s ability to better control their labor costs. Due to the fluidity and replaceability of labor associated with the gig structure, annual, merit, seniority and cost of living raises will probably become things of the past. Instead of increasing someone’s pay to perform the same gig, it will be cheaper to just hire someone else to do the work.

In the past it was sometimes viewed as a sign of instability if there were too many different positions and companies on one’s resume. I think that will obviously change. In fact, I think in the future having multiple assignments, or gigs, with various companies will be seen as a strength. If you don’t have enough, varied assignments with different companies, employers will wonder why.

Employees should no longer look to or expect to matriculate upwards into management, in a single company. As the horizon continues to shorten, each gig will be viewed as just a step in an overall body of work. (Very similarly to each album is an increment to the musician’s bodies of work.) If you don’t change your direction and content often enough you will run the risk of being type-cast or worse, thought of as lacking in aggression or creativity.

As companies continue the drive toward being process driven, the gig will continue to be defined and refined into smaller and smaller, discrete functions. The only way to get broader experience will be to have multiple, different gigs. The best way to get that will be to go to different companies.

This could have a disillusioning effect on those that are coming into the workforce with expectations that may be unaligned with the current corporate directions and trends. Simon Sinek, the British-American author on business and organizations, had a very interesting video discussion where he addresses the millennial in the workplace topic.

In it he discusses how he believes that organizations are going to have to change and adapt to this new millennial force in the workforce. I think he is partially correct in that there is a mismatch between the millennial generation’s expectations and the direction that business is moving. As business moves to contractor / gig / low-cost labor model, the new employees are going to have less and less of an opportunity to have an effect on the corporation. This is the direction that companies appear to be moving, of their own volition. There is a drive for this inter-changeability.

Just as when a musician becomes unhappy with the band he may be in and leaves, the ability to replace them with another musician becomes paramount. So it will be in business. The process will define your gig. The way to move forward will be to have multiple gigs. The way to get multiple gigs will be to move from organization to organization.

As with any new organizational or employment structure, there will be ways for people to prosper. Just as good musicians are always in demand for bands and gigs, so will competent and capable employees be in demand. It will however change the dynamic between employees and employers in the extreme. Employees will be more and more apt to leave at any time. Employers will more and more structure employment around gig concepts and temporary assignments. When the assignment is up, it will be incumbent on the employee to find something else, either internally or externally to the company.

Just as all musicians, even those with a current gig, are always looking for the next gig, employees will also have to start preparing for their next gig, even when they have one. Times are changing. Cycle times are getting shorter, and so are the horizons that companies are willing to invest in research and development, new products, new markets and employees. The returns will need to be seen almost immediately or they will move on to something, or someone else quickly.

Just as a musician likes to have his next gig lined up even before he is done playing the current one, I think in the coming environment it will be almost a necessity to line up your next business gig before the one you are on is over. No one likes to be waiting on, or without a gig.

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’.

Skeptics and Pragmatics

When in doubt about where to start on a topic, I almost always turn to the best companion a writer of any kind can have, the dictionary. Webster’s dictionary defines “skeptic” as a noun, and “a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual.” There are a few other definitions, but this is the first one on the list.

The etymology of the word (to be honest when I did some of my initial research I wondered why anyone would want to know the “study of bugs” with association to “skeptics”, but it turned out that I had confused “Entomology – the study of insects” with “Etymology – the origin of words”. Silly me.) comes from the name taken by the disciples of the Greek philosopher Pyrrho, who lived c.360-c.270 B.C.E., and is related to skeptesthai “to reflect, look, view”. In any event, you can see where the word came from and how its meaning was formed.

So what has this to do with business, you might ask since that is what I usually write about.

It has to do with the fact that skeptics and skepticism are normally viewed in a negative light when it comes to business. Management usually wants you to fall in line behind their plans and start executing them. Skeptics are viewed as hindrances to the progress of management’s plans. The plan is done. Let’s get on with it. If we had wanted your opinion we would have asked for it.

Leaders on the other hand will usually seek out those that “reflect, look, view” and “who question the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual.”

Please don’t get me wrong. There is a time and a place for skepticism and there is a time and a place for action. However it is always the time and place to ask if you are doing the right thing.

Plans must be continually questioned and revised. Processes must be continually reviewed and renewed. Just because something looked like it would work one day does not mean it will look and work the same at a later date.

The problem is that for the average manager it is easier to continue on with an existing plan, even a bad existing plan then it is to make the effort to revise the plan, or even develop a new plan and to change directions. I don’t know why this seems to be the case in business, but it has been my experience across most of my business career. It seems the risk associated with trying something different is felt to be greater than the risk of continuing to do something wrong.

This brings us to our second word for the day: pragmatics. Much like labeling someone a skeptic in business as a negative characteristic, being labeled a pragmatic seems to have taken on a similar context. It doesn’t seem that anyone has ever been told they are pragmatic enough. You only hear about people being too pragmatic as if that means that they are not capable of somehow grasping the bigger picture.

I think this is similar to the conundrum associated with “whelming”. You often hear of people being overwhelmed when they have too much to handle. You sometimes hear of them being underwhelmed when they are not impressed. You never hear of them being just plain whelmed.

Going back to Webster’s dictionary, for “pragmatic” we get an adjective this time, “of or pertaining to a practical point of view or practical considerations.” When we look at the source or study of bugs associated with this word we get from Latin pragmaticus “skilled in business or law” and from the Greek pragmatikos “fit for business, active, business-like; systematic”. There’s more, but I think you get the picture.

A pragmatic is someone who is skilled in business with a practical point of view. Now the catchphrase here is “practical”, so here we go again. Practical according to Websters another adjective: adapted or designed for actual use; useful. Now we have a pragmatic as someone who is skilled in business with a point of view that is adapted or designed for actual use.

So enough already with the word-smithing.

What all this has led up to is a couple of questions: How is it that the skeptic, the one who wants to see deeper into the topic seems to be perceived as an obstacle to progress as compared to the individual who never questions authenticity and validity? Why is it that the pragmatic, the one who wants to do things designed for actual use is seen to be perceived as not inspiring enough to lead?

Business seems to have evolved over time away from some of these basic tenets that in the past have been the basis for success. History is littered with examples of some very hard lessons that were learned, or more accurately, relearned at great expense, where the skeptic or the pragmatic were ignored, but were in the end proven correct.

I remember working for a company where all of the management and all but one of the stock analysts were convinced that the company and its stock price would only go higher. It was a market boom. Everyone needed to get on board or be left behind.

There was however one analyst who kept saying that the market was overbought and the business model did not even support the existing business and stock levels. He was a skeptic. He was ostracized and ignored.

When the market, and stock crashed and thousands lost their jobs he was proven far more accurate than anyone was even comfortable discussing. The company went from being the market leader to having gone out of business in less than ten years.

I also recall the reviews by the public and the analysts about the banks that were described (rather derisively) as “pragmatic” when they did not participate in the new burgeoning “sub-prime” mortgage market. There was great money to be made. They were going to miss out on the new found fortunes. When the market crashed, and took down most of the economy with it, it again proved that the business practice of making mortgage loans to those that had a high probability of being able to pay back the amount of the loan they received was still the best practical model. It seems that eventually sound business practice will be proven out.

Skeptics and pragmatics, of one type or another need to be sought out and encouraged. They idea of not taking things at face value and doing things that are designed and adapted for actual use should never go out of style or favor. We need to remember that just because someone is a skeptic does not mean that they are an obstruction to be overcome. Just because someone is pragmatic does not mean that they cannot be a visionary and inspirational leader.

Leaders today need to be looking for skeptics and pragmatics for their teams. After all, chances are that at least one of them will be proven to be one of the leaders for tomorrow.

Facilities and Information Technologies

In the past I have looked at several different disciplines within the business organization. Sales, Marketing, Finance, Research and Development and even Human Resources all have their roles and responsibilities in the organization. There are a couple of key support organizations that should also be examined; Facilities and Information Technologies (IT), and unless you want to have an office in an abandoned warehouse and communicate via semaphore (that’s the waving of flags to pass messages between ships) or smoke signals, you need to be aware of and know how to work with them.

The facilities group is a reasonably simple group to identify and locate in the business environment. Simply find the second nicest offices in the building. Chances are these will be the facilities group.

Why the second nicest? Very simple. Facilities is normally wise enough to understand that the senior corporate executives will expect to have the nicest offices in the building. They will want the biggest offices on the highest floor with the best views out the windows. If someone else has them, the executives will want them. This will cause unrest and unhappiness. It is best just to give executives what they want. Everybody knows this, including the Facilities group.

And who will be the ones to give the executives the offices that they want? Correct, it will be Facilities. They are the group that is in charge of all the buildings and all the stuff that goes in all the buildings. Once they have decided who gets the very best offices – the executives – they then get to decide who gets the second best offices. The only people who can over-rule Facilities decisions regarding who gets what office are the executives, and since chances are that the executives are all content and placated in their offices Facilities pretty much at this point has carte blanche to decide who gets what.

With this kind of power with respect to office allocation it is only logical that they should place themselves only slightly below the corporate executives in the office pecking order.

Also expect Facilities to place their offices as far away from the corporate executives as is possible. They usually do this in order to minimize the opportunity or even the chance that a corporate executive may actually wander over to their area just to make sure that they do in fact have the second best offices in the building and not the actual best offices in the building. This will mean if the executives are on the top floor, facilities will be in the basement. If the executives are on the east end of the building, facilities will be on the west, and so on.

Why is all this important you may ask? Remember on average you will be asked to move your office location every one to two years. Also remember to take advice like this with a grain of salt as it is also estimated that 76.43% percent of all statistics are made up on the spot. I however have found this to be a reasonably accurate estimate on the number of times I have moved my office in my career.

With that in mind, it may be a good idea to identify who the Facilities representatives are within your organization and to foster a relationship with them. This relationship will be good for you in that it may help you and your team when it comes time for you to move, and it can be good for Facilities as they want to build relationships with both the current and future leaders of the organization.

The next group to be aware of is the Information Technologies team. No one is ever really sure where their offices are. Their offices are normally in a part of the building that is cordoned off from the rest of the mere mortals in the organization, usually behind a security door or special access badge reader of some sort. This is usually claimed to be done in the name of making sure the communications infrastructure of the organization is kept safe from terrorists and other employees of the business, but one can never really be sure.

I have walked by these doors on several occasions and thought I have heard the sound laughter and music, but as these doors also appear to be somewhat sound proofed I was never quite sure so I have written it off to an over active imagination.

The Information Technology team members are also easily recognizable by the number, quality, complexity and sophistication of the electronic gadgets that they have in their possession. The Information Technology team members are usually the people with the coolest mobile phones, with the latest time saving applications on them, and the ability to have you stricken from every corporate directory with but a single call or key stroke. Now that is power.

For those of you that are wondering, IT are the people that are responsible for your phone and computer networks. If you want to have a quiet day in the office just go and insult the IT leader in your area. It will be surprising how seldom your phone will ring, or dial tone will be present when you go to make a call.

If you want to reduce the number of emails that you have to deal with, just send an email to management which is critical of the IT team’s performance. You will also find that when your email is not working and you call the toll free hotline for immediate technical support that they will direct you to the website where they will ask you to send them an email detailing the issues that you are having with your email.

There is currently a détente between most Facilities groups and most IT teams in that Facilities is responsible for enabling IT to have office space behind closed and locked doors where goodness knows what goes on, and IT is responsible for making it impossible for all but the very most senior executives to ever establish real time contact in the form of a phone call with anyone from the Facilities group. If this relationship were found in nature it would be called social symbiosis.

The reason that I bring IT into the discussion about the Facilities group is that every time you move your office you also have to reestablish all of your network connections so that you can get email on your computer and that your phone will ring when someone calls you at your new office. If you move every one to two years on average, that can turn out to be a significant amount of time spent with the Facilities and Information Technologies groups.

Without exception I have found the professionals associated with the Facilities and IT groups to be some of the most helpful individuals in any company I have been in, I have also found that it does not hurt to bring them “tribute” in the form of a written thank you for the effort that they have invariably expended on my behalf to make the vast majority of my office moves while not enjoyable, at least that much more tolerable.

Career Progression

When you look at a career in business you see that it is not a smooth line but a series of steps. Some are upwards, and some are not. The point is that there is movement, maybe not continual, but regular movement. There are always new roles, new responsibilities and new challenges to take on. There is not an exact science on when and where to make your moves and take your steps. There are however a few topics, traits and activities to be aware of when contemplating your career progression.

When discussing career progression it isinteresting to note the number of seemingly opposing forces that will act on a career. The first of these dichotomies will be how long or how short each business assignment’s duration is. Many prospective employers or managers like to look at an individual’s past assignment durations to get an idea of how long they may stay in their new role. A history of short assignment durations can indicate a “job hopper”, or someone who is just hopping from role to role. This could be for any number of good or viable reasons, but in general can be seen as a negative. A history of long assignments can also be negatively looked at as someone who may be “too conservative” and either cannot or will not take on new or added responsibilities. There is always the search for the perfect balance between the two extremes.

As I have noted in many past articles, I am something of an old school throwback when it comes to business. There was a time where businesses wanted candidates and employees that had a broad background and experience set. This multi-discipline type of background was seen as an indication that the employee or candidate had the capability to be flexible in what they were asked or needed to do as well as were able to take on other and greater responsibilities. The idea here was that businesses were looking for the best overall business “athletes”.

Now it seems that this approach is no longer the case. The business world seems to have evolved to a level of specificity where the search is no longer for the best potential overall athlete, but the best within that specific discipline. This approach now brings into question whether or not it is good to search for or even accept new roles that require a change of discipline. If a business is looking for a marketer, they are now looking for the best marketer available, and more specifically the best marketer in their specific market for their specific product type, not the best athlete who has the capability to not only become the best marketer, but also has the capability to go on and assume roles with greater or broader responsibilities.

While this approach may provide a better short term or immediate return to that specific part of the business, it does tend to generate somewhat more one dimensional (single discipline) career paths and leaders. As leaders hit the senior level positions where they will be required to provide broader leadership, they will have a narrower experience set to draw on. I am not proposing that career discipline changes (Marketing to Finance, or Engineering to Sales, etc.) cannot or should not be made. What I am saying is that the current business climate does not encourage or reward these types of career changes in the same way that they were in the past. It is something to be aware of when contemplating potential changes and progression.

Another aspect of career progression will depend on the relative perception of the business aspect that you are currently in. What I mean here is that if you are associated with a business unit or function that is in relatively high regard, the opportunities for continued career progression in that specific business unit or function, or even other business units or functions can be stronger. As an example, look at Apple. They had been so successful under Steve Jobs leadership that they primarily looked to members of his team to assume the leadership role to assure continuity and continued success. They looked internal.

When a business unit or function is not performing to a desired level, it unfortunately seems that all members of that team whether it is justifiable or not will be associated with that poor performance. In most cases like this an organization will look external of that business unit or function for its next leader. These changes of leadership events can be opportunities for leaders outside of the poor performing business, but unless they are in a similar business function this again would seem to run contrary to the previous point I made earlier regarding the apparent single discipline verses multi-discipline experience preference in candidates.

Either way, there will always be the question of the need for continuity playing against the need for new approaches in a leadership role. Both can be either opportunities for or detriments to career progression. Knowledge of both the business situation and perception of the business will be needed in order to ascertain what or where may be the next career progression opportunity.

Along a similar line here, I have always found that taking on a new approach change of leadership role has been beneficial to my career. I have taken to heart the advice of an executive that I received early in my career when I was pondering just such a move. The executive told me to never be afraid to take on a bad or underperforming business (he actually used the word “catastrophe”). He said that if something is truly in bad shape, that you can’t help but make it better. Across my experience in business, I have found this to be true far more times than not. These types of career moves can result in some of the most challenging of assignments, but in order to achieve the return of career advancement there will need to be the risk of taking on difficult performance objectives.

There are those that consider a proper career progression to be a series of upward movements and assignments with ever increasing responsibilities. This type of progression has not been my experience, nor has it been one that I have seen. There will inevitably be situations that evolve where there will simply be no opportunities for advancement. There may already be several high quality leaders in position and hence no new opportunities. On the opposite side of that equation, there may be several managers in place who may not be supporters of the leadership traits and characteristics that you want to employ. The business may be undergoing a contraction and along with that action there is a reduction in opportunities. For whatever reason there can be an opportunity logjam.

In situations like this it may be time to look for a lateral move instead of waiting to try and make a promotional one. In effect you can try and step around the business impediments to career progress. It may be possible to step outside of an underperforming business unit (where you may be associated with that underperformance) and get into a better performing business unit. Once outside of the poorly performing unit you may become eligible for consideration due to your past experience and knowledge if and when a leadership change is considered there.

Moving laterally in an organization can also provide monetary and earnings opportunities. Better performing business units can receive better bonus opportunities during annual reviews. Moving into sales or into different units within sales can provide better sales and commission opportunities. Some lateral motion for whatever reason should be expected in almost any career progression.

I will come to conclusion here without commenting on where a career progression may slow or even stop. You may be happy where you are and remain at that level of responsibility or you may not. Instead I’ll finish with a few quotes or axioms and let you decide.

Laurence J. Peter
and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book The Peter Principle, defined the Peter Principle as that the members of an organization where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit, will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability. The principle is commonly phrased, “Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence.”

Robert Frost wrote: “By working faithfully eight hours a day you may eventually get to be boss, and work twelve hours a day.”

And finally Sloan Wilson said: “Success in almost any field depends more on energy and drive than it does on intelligence. This explains why we have so many stupid leaders.” I suspect and hope that he was writing about our political system, but I thought I would throw that one in as well.

Good luck on your career.

Ruthless Simplification

There seems to be a significant amount being written these days regarding simplification. It’s difficult to go through the news and not see some article regarding how people see and feel the need to simplify their lives and what they are doing to simplify their lives. The same seems to be true with businesses. Businesses are always trying to simplify the way they perform their work. There are usually all sorts of programs, processes and initiatives focused trying to simplify the business. When you net them all out, they can usually be summed up in a simple statement: In order to simplify, you need to ruthlessly stop doing work that provides no value to your customers.

On the surface this sounds easy, but in practice business inertia makes this activity a little more difficult to accomplish. In these times when any discussion turns to the topic of no longer doing specific work or tasks, that activity is translated into preparation for staff reductions. The stakeholders in the current process will almost always generate some resistance to changes of these types. While reductions can be a potential outcome it should not be the focus. Over time businesses accrete tasks associated with the way they work. As the business needs change, new tasks and objectives are added to meet them. Businesses usually have very good processes and methods for adding new work, but rather poor processes and methods for discontinuing tasks that have either outlived their usefulness or no longer provide direct value to its customers.

Most simplification processes start out as methods of re-categorizing existing tasks and then grouping like work together in an effort to glean some efficiency from having similar tasks performed by similar groups. This simplification approach doesn’t reduce the amount or type of work being done. It assumes that all work currently being done in the business is critical to the business. I think that is the major fallacy of this simplification approach.

Almost every business will have functions and tasks that remain from previous products, processes and programs. The incremental value to the business of this work will be suspect at best, but unless active measures are taken to remove it, it will continue to absorb business staff and resources. The objective of all simplification projects should be to identify and remove work, and more specifically work of questionable incremental value to the business, from the business. With this objective in mind business simplification should not try to enable a business to do more with less, but rather simplification should target having the business do less, but being able to do the remaining work much better.

Now the question that arises is: which work should the business look to simplify? At the risk of sounding a little trite, there are basically three functions that a business must perform. A business must create products and services for customers, sell products and services and deliver products and services to customers in order to be successful. If the tasks in question do not directly contribute to one of these functions it is a candidate for further review. That doesn’t mean that all tasks outside of these functions should be eliminated. There are some functions, Finance, Human Resources, etc., that do not fall into these categories, but are a business requirement. It is also very probable that there are tasks within these specific functions, meetings, reporting, reviewing, etc., that do not directly contribute specific value to the function that may need to be simplified if not eliminated.

A further guiding principle should be: does the specific task provide value directly to the customer? If a task cannot be identified as directly providing a value to a customer, it is adding a cost to the product or service that is providing value to a customer. If the product or service can be provided to the customer without the incremental costs associated with the identified task, then the task is a very good candidate for simplification.

The idea here is to identify work that must be done in order to provide value to the customer. Customers will pay for goods and services with which they associate value. If there are tasks that are creating costs, absorbing resources and providing minimal value to the customer, they are the potential targets for simplification. Businesses have a tendency over time to create tasks and structures that are designed to provide perceived value internally to the business, not externally to the customer.

Examples of these types of non-value added tasks can be: business reviews that occur regularly where information / presentations / discussions are provided, but where no action items are given; or business requests for information and data, where resources are expended fulfilling the requests, but no business information or actions are provided in return. There is a long list of resource absorbing, non-value adding tasks, which on the surface appear useful business, but when viewed from a business requirement and customer value point of view can and probably should be simplified.

Resources are too precious to allow them to be wasted on tasks that are not directly providing value to the customers, and through the customers, value back to the business. They need to be ruthlessly protected. There is always more valuable work that needs to be done then there are resources to perform it. This is where the ruthless simplification of the tasks that do not provide customer value can strip away the drag on the business, as well as free up the resource to provide the incremental value adding work that needs to be done.

Make Music

I would like to think of myself as something of a musician. I have actually been up on stage at a few venues (including The Hard Rock Café) and performed in various bands and even got paid for doing it. I guess that minimally qualifies me as a professional musician.


Every now and then however I have had the pleasure of associating with “real” musicians. These are the people who have “the” talent. They can play. I understand music theory and application. I enjoy practicing, learning new works and with time can master most techniques, but I recognize that in some instances I really don’t have “the” talent that will elevate me to the exalted levels of a “real” musician.


I have also learned that I don’t care.


You need to enjoy making music. It is something I want to do. I have found that I would rather be the weakest player in a very good jazz combo than the best player in a garage rock band. I have been both. Being the weaker player in the better group doesn’t embarrass me. It motivates me. I find I work harder, to get better, to not let down my band-mates, and that the final product that we produce is always better.


You also learn that being a musician requires a certain amount of interpersonal skills. I have been in a few bands that were pretty good, but could not survive more than a gig (performance – I have to use band “speak” lest people think I am really not a musician) or two simply because they could not get along. The band needs to understand the personal arrangement in much the same way as they have to understand the musical arrangement. Not everyone can be “the” leader, and not everyone can solo at the same time.


It is said that the band “Cream” (Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce) were three virtuosos soloing all the time. They were great, and in some cases spectacular, but they couldn’t hold it together either, and quickly broke up. They have reunited some forty years later for a few concerts, but think of all the spectacular music that didn’t get made.


I found that bands I was in, where the members brought down their personal desires to solo and lead made better music. The final product (at least for me, and I think them too) was ultimately much better, and much better received by the audience. There is a time and a place to step forward, but not everybody can do it at once.


You want to be in with musicians that smiled. Making music is fun. You are getting to do something that not everybody gets to do. It should be a pleasure. It is something to enjoy. If you are not having fun, if you can’t find the enjoyment, even in the practice and the mundane aspects of making music, than you shouldn’t be doing it.


I do have fun. I hope my kids see that I do and that they do too, some day. I was well out of college before I learned to enjoy it, but I did.


I play the bass. As I said I would like to call myself a bass player, but that might insult some of the bass players out there who can really, really play. I know my role. The bass is a transition instrument which helps connect the melody (guitars / keyboards – chords) to the rhythm (Drums – beat). I try to be the best bass player I can within the group, whether I am playing a simple repetitive riff, or improvising a walk through changing keys and chords. I enjoy them both.

There is a musician joke that holds very true for me.    Who is the guy standing around with all the musicians?…..The Bass player.

I also practice the bass. I try to learn new songs, new styles, and new techniques. The Jazz group I am currently in is playing several old standards, but in varying new and different styles. Old standards that were written to be played as a “swing” sound new and are interesting to play as a “Tango” or “Bossanova”. It seems that with music you can continue to take the old and make it new again. It helps keep you, the music and the band refreshed.


I would like to thank the other members of the band I am in. Gene (keyboards), Jay (Guitar), and Billy (Drums) – Thanks. I am having a ball. I hope you guys will continue to let me play in the band.


I guess a lot of the same ideas associated with making music would also apply to business, wouldn’t they.