Category Archives: Self Analysis

Meeting Volume vs. Meeting Value

I think I may have telegraphed this week’s topic with that title.

It is no secret that I have been looking at the topics of Process, Meetings and Virtual Offices and the effects that the changing norms for each of these topics have had on each other. As more process is driven into the business organization, the requirement to have more meetings as a part of the review process increases. As people who were once in the office now work from a virtual office instead of the brick and mortar organizational location, they attend more and more meetings “virtually”. Meetings are now really little more than what would once have been described as very large and elaborate conference calls. Against this new backdrop I can’t help but wonder if what was once a vital aspect of corporate culture and progress has become little more than an opportunity to answer emails and texts while partially listening to someone talk on the phone.

I think process has a place in business. It should provide guidelines and directions as to what potential next steps need to be taken in a given situation. This is probably particularly important in those disciplines that deal with crisis situations (such as critical system failures, etc.) or those that deal with repetitive situations where uniformity of approach, response and output are desirable.

I am sure that there are probably others, but for now a think that a little process guideline setting can go a very long way.

I have written in the past that process is invariably input into an organization as a replacement for judgement. The human brain, when properly applied, is a spectacular difference engine. It is capable of correlating seemingly unrelated inputs and creating leaps of faith and imagination that no process could ever hope to replicate. This is what “judgement” is.

And yet we continue to put more structures in place with the purpose of curtailing this capability. We continue to input more process into business as a replacement for judgement, and then react by trying to input even more process when it comes the time for good judgement, and there is none available.

One of the hallmarks of process is the requirement that there must be review meetings to make sure that the process is being followed. Otherwise, how could anyone be sure that the process even existed, let alone was being followed. These are events where everyone associated with the process attends, mainly it seems because the process indicates that everyone associated with the process should attend every process review.

Process review meetings are usually pretty large affairs. As we have increased the application of process to business, we have also increased both the number of meetings, particularly process reviews, and the number of attendees at those meetings.

Virtual Office arrangements have also contributed to the ever-expanding meeting numbers and sizes.

Back in the olden times, when people actually all went to a specific place to work together, it was usually somewhat apparent what everyone was doing and how busy they were. You could see them. You could see what they were doing. Even if you weren’t talking to, or directly interfacing with them you were at least peripherally aware of what was going on.

But now with the proliferation of Virtual Office arrangements, no one can be really sure what any of “those people” who are not in the office are actually doing. This phenomenon is also not lost on the people who are in the virtual office. So, what do the people in the virtual office do?

They attend more meetings.

There can be no doubt regarding someone’s work status when they are always in meetings. There is no question as to what they are doing if their calendar shows that they are attending a meeting.

Meetings have now evolved into a vehicle that allows the once “invisible” virtual office worker to not only be more visible, but to be more visible to many, many people. Since meetings have devolved from face to face events where you could see who you were talking to, to expansive conference calls where just the slides appear in front of you on your personal computer screen, and are addressed by a voice on the telephone, they seem to have grown in size.

That doesn’t mean that they are any more popular, or more useful. They are just more easily attended.

In a face to face meeting, it is readily apparent to everyone else in the meeting is doing. You can look over and see. Are they paying attention? Are they engaged? Are they making eye contact? Are they asking questions? What, if anything are they getting out of the meeting?

This is no longer the case.

We now have an ever-increasing slate of meeting attendees, most of which are no longer even in the same building as the meeting host. We have an increasing number of meetings, attended by an increasing number of people, for an increasing number of reasons. Just because we now have more people at these meetings doesn’t mean they are paying attention. Chances are more than pretty good that they are not.

The only thing that seems to be decreasing when it comes to meetings is the actual interaction that goes on during the meeting.

Since there is usually no one in the room with any particular presenter during a particular meeting, they are no longer presenting “to” anyone. They are presenting “at” them. And since there is no longer any direct ownership associated with the reception of the presented information, there seems to be fewer and fewer questions associated with what has been presented.

Meetings, events that were originally created to enable the two-way exchange of information, seem to have been reduced in importance and capability by the very technology that was designed to further enable the meeting’s reach.

I think that this has been an ongoing phenomenon for a while. I, like I am sure many of you, looked to see who is in virtual attendance at the meetings I attend. I then noted the number of questions that are asked. The number of specific items that are addressed. The number of dates that are selected or identified. The number of action items that have been taken, or given as the case may be. The deliverables that are to be expected. And the number of people who speak.

It seems that the actual number of any of the above listed events occurring during a meeting is going down. Meetings no longer seem to be events where discussion occurs. The give and take dynamic seems to have been lost as meetings have become more process driven and virtually attended. Meetings now seem to be designated times where slides are presented, and the most important aspect of the meeting is to make sure that it ends on time in accordance with the process that is being followed.

Meeting attendance seems to have evolved into some sort of barometer associated with individual activity levels and importance, where actual participation in the meeting, the value added in attending a meeting, has continued to decline.

Meetings used to be recognized as having a specific purpose. Meetings used to be designated as a face to face event. It took people out of their specific environments and put them in a meeting. While they were in the meeting they were not busy or distracted with other activities or demands on their time. There was a goal associated with the meeting.

As we have continued to implement more and more process into the business system we have generated more meetings to track our progress against the process. As we have virtualized our offices, so have we virtualized our meeting attendance. What was once a designated time to exchange ideas and leave with a goal achieved has evolved to a time to call and review charts on-line.

We seem to be meeting more, but getting less achieved at each meeting. In many instances, it seems that instead of having a goal, the meeting is the goal. Instead of challenging each other, due to the size and impersonal nature of virtual meetings, we are presented at. If we have issues or concerns, they are probably best handled off line.

In short, we seem to now attend meetings. We no longer participate in them.

I have yet to hear anyone suggest that they are not attending enough meetings. Perhaps it is time to participate instead of attend, and expect more from meetings. Asking and being asked questions, assigning and accepting the assignment of action items, and challenging as well as being challenged need to be expected parts of all meetings.

It is going to be through these attributes that value is driven back into meetings. The meeting needs to evolve away from its current spectator – presenter arrangement, and back to its original participant structure. Meeting minutes need to be taken at every meeting and distributed. If you are not going to be a participant in the meeting, you should not attend. You can read the minutes.

Reducing the number of spectator attendees, assigning and accepting action items, and delivering meeting minutes afterwards seem to be simple requirements. But meetings should be simple. They should be to exchange ideas and challenge each other. I think that is where the basic value in them lies. Not in the number of them that you have or attend.

Products and Markets

Good sales people only need a couple of things to be very successful: the right products and the right markets. The corollary here is that even with these things, bad sales people will not be successful. That’s why they are referred to as bad sales people. The question then arises: How can you tell if you have bad sales people, or the wrong products, or are in the wrong market? This is a set of questions that senior management must always answer every time a sales target is missed.

I’ll deal with the sales person discussion first.

Sales people are invariably success and compensation driven. They are also usually in a leveraged compensation type of role. That means that the level of their total compensation is directly associated with the amount of sales that they generate. Sales people are essentially risking part of their compensation, and betting on themselves in that they will be able to not only achieve their sales goals but also exceed them in order to maximize their compensation. Think about that for a minute.

People in marketing don’t take this risk and have their total compensation directly linked to the number or the success of the parking programs and campaigns that they create. People in research and development don’t take this risk and have their compensation directly linked to the number of products, the time it takes to develop products or the customer or market applicability of the products they develop. Accountants don’t take this risk and have their compensation directly linked to the quantity of numbers they crunch or the time it takes them to crunch them.

They may be indirectly linked in the form of management reviews, ratings, and bonuses, but for the most there is not the quid pro quo defined “if you do this, we will pay you that” sort of compensation relationship that you find in sales.

What this usually means is that when viewed over reasonable time frames, sales people are either successful (achieving or exceeding their sales targets and getting paid lots of money, receiving both recognition and rewards as compensation) or they don’t get to be sales people for very long. They can’t afford to be bad sales people because they won’t make enough to survive. They usually either thrive, or don’t survive.

So despite what every investment prospectus may say to the contrary (past performance is no indication or guarantee of future success), if the sales people have been successful in the past, and they are still sales people, it is a pretty good indication that they can be expected to continue to be good sales people.

What is interesting is that despite this knowledge, most management will immediately examine and possibly blame the sales team should each new sales objective not be met. I think that this is because it is the easiest approach. After all, we all know that sales can’t really be that difficult, and that sales also comes with a two drink minimum for the cover charge.

What I’m going to briefly look at here, is what do you do when you have a proven sales force, but you aren’t achieving the market success that you are looking for. That means that you need to be looking at your products and your markets.

Let’s look at the next easiest factor to review, the market.

For this analysis I am going to pick something that we can all probably agree is a good product, that being energy efficiency. It can be an actual product that reduces energy consumption. It can be a service that results in reduced energy consumption. In this analysis it is a hypothetical product that has a definable value in the amount of energy consumption that it reduces.

So in what market would this energy efficiency product do well?

That market would not be, as one might erroneously think, the market where the most energy is consumed, and hence the greatest savings could be generated. If that were the case all products of this type would be very successful in North America and the US specifically since it is one of the biggest consumers of energy in the world. While there continues to be a growing interest in energy conservation, the success of energy conservation products in the US has not been commensurate with the energy consumption market opportunity. In fact, energy consumption has increased over the period of time, not decreased. This is due to the relatively low cost per unit of energy in the US.

The greatest market opportunity would more correctly be identified as the market where there is the highest cost per unit of energy consumption.

Going a little further with the market size versus unit cost example, the average cost of a kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity in the US is approximately $0.10. The cost of the same kWh of electricity in Brazil is approximately $0.165, or almost 65% more expensive. That means the value of the energy savings per dollar spent on the energy conservation product will be 65% greater in Brazil than it will be in the US.

There are approximately five times as many kWh per capita consumed in the US as there are in Brazil, making the US by far the bigger market opportunity, but the value per unit savings in Brazil make it the more attractive market (at least initially) for energy savings products. When it comes time to create a business case where money is being spent in order to reduce future expenditures (save money in the future), greater savings will always equate to a better business case.

In short, it will be more difficult (currently, from a financial business case point of view) to sell energy conservation products in the US than it will be to do so in Brazil. From this point of view, the better market would be Brazil.

At a very coarse and high level this is the type of market analysis that needs to occur for all types of products when preparing to enter markets, as well as when going back and analyzing why a market objective may not have been met. It answers the question is the market the right fit for the product. It also clearly points out that one size will not actually fit all.

In looking at the final scenario, we will assume that the again we have a competent sales force and in this case have identified a market that we wish to address. Again there will need to be almost the same product versus market analysis done in order to identify if there is a proper fit.

If we use the same energy conservation product example from above, we see that while the US is a massive energy consumer the relatively low cost per unit of energy versus the rest of the world makes it a relatively poor market for energy conservation products. In other words, energy conservation products do not do as well in the US because US energy consumers (both corporations and individuals) can afford to not conserve (as much) due to the low costs per unit of energy used.

This would mean that for a global energy conservation product to be successful in the US market it would have to attack the market from some direction other that specifically based on the value of the energy saved. It would have to take the more difficult road of trying to quantify the value other “soft” benefits associated with the product.

These types of soft benefits could include but not be limited to: Attractive designs (Apple is a master at this), incremental functionalities (can the energy conservation product do other things besides save energy – a smart phone analogy), social responsibility (casting the product in the “greater good” social category versus solely in a corporate fiduciary role), and corporate leadership (the business case may not be great now, but in the future when energy costs are expected to increase it will be, and then you will be ahead of the curve). I am sure there are many others.

As noted these are soft benefits in that it is difficult if not impossible to define their value. That is not to say they don’t have value. They do. It is just difficult to quantify. However, price is always readily definable. And it is always difficult to sell a product with a definable price, but not a commensurately definable value.

If you find sales people capable of selling a product with a definable price, but not a commensurately definable value, you should do all you can to keep them.

Management will invariably first look at the sales teams when sales objectives are not met. A significant reason for this is the difficulty in looking at, or worse, trying to change markets or products. I do think in most instances it is the specifics associated with the markets and the products that will need to be addressed when sales targets are missed, as opposed to replacing sales people.

I have found that most of the time issues arise with obtaining sales goals because of the desire to sell a specific product into the wrong market, or the desire to sell the wrong product into the desired market. If the product is not readily modifiable, other more receptive markets need to be identified. If the market is the target, then the product needs to be modifiable to meet the specific needs of that market.

The sales force is indeed important, but it has always been about products and markets.

Instinct

It has been a somewhat interesting week. Many items have caught my attention and seemed as though they would be good topics to write about. I may save a few of these ideas for later articles. Some of them are probably better left out or forgotten. I don’t mind wandering off into some potentially arcane or hard to relate to business topics occasionally, but I don’t want to generate just another rant about this topic or that one and then try to relate it to business.

What I thought that was interesting today was the idea of instinct. I think we all have a basic idea of what instinct is, but since I am eventually going to relate it to business I think I may want to start out at a reasonable baseline. May favorite way of doing that is to go out to Merriam-Webster and retrieve the following “simple” definition of instinct:

“Something you know without learning it or thinking about it”.

Okay, a couple things here. First, when did Merriam-Webster start providing a “simple definition”? Really? Have we actually come to the point where we are abridging our definitions into the simplest of vernacular? I couldn’t make this up. There is now a “simple” and a “full” definition. I fear for where our society is going at this point, but I promised not to propeller off into some sort of a rant.

Second, I think I’ll go with the “full” definition, because I guess I am just that kind of person:

“A natural or inherent aptitude, impulse, or capacity”

Either way, I think you get my point. We have all met people in business that just seem to know what to do and when to do it. They make good business decisions. They can extrapolate limited data and input it into very good solutions. They make smart choices. They are said to have good instincts. But do they really?

We usually hear of “good instincts” as it applies to athletes. It seems to be some sort of method for describing why an athlete who is not biggest, fastest or most imposing physical specimen is so good at what they do.

I have mentioned in the past that I have become something of a hockey fan. Even I find this rather interesting since I grew up in the desert southwest and currently live in Texas, which as we all know is not considered a hotbed of hockey fandom. Go figure.

With that in mind, the best example of this good instincts phenomenon that I can think of is the hockey player Wayne Gretzky. The leading scorer in the history of the National Hockey League. The man who’s nick-named “The Great One”. The measuring stick for all other great hockey players.

He was not particularly big as hockey players go. He was not the fastest skater, nor did he have the hardest shot. He just scored, a lot. When he was asked how he did it, he said he didn’t go to where the puck was, but where he thought the puck would be. Based on his success it looks like he had great instincts.

Or did he? I’ll get back to this a little later as well.

Let’s fast forward to the opening day of the National Football league and the first game of the season for the Dallas Cowboys. I am not a particular Dallas Cowboys fan. That person in our house would be my wife. I am however wise enough to sit on the couch quietly while she cheers her team on. I guess it is our version of “together” time.

The game in question was a see-saw affair and was reasonably exciting. It was coming down to the last few seconds when a field goal could steal a victory for Dallas. With no time outs and just a handful of seconds left on the clock a pass was thrown to the Dallas receiver on the sidelines. All he needed to do was step out of bounds and stop the clock.

But this is where his instincts kicked in.

Instead of stepping out of bounds and stopping the clock, which in this instance was the most limited resource in the situation, the receiver turned and tried to run up field and gain a few more yards. I don’t blame him (my wife does however) because every receiver’s instinct is to maximize the gain on each individual play. Needless to say he was tackled in bounds, time ran out and Dallas lost.

It is apparent that in this instance his instincts were wrong.

Time was in fact the most importance aspect of the situation. He needed to understand that and adjust his behavior appropriately. He needed to think about where he was and the situation he, and the team were in and act accordingly.

This is easy enough to say when you are sitting on a couch next to someone who is cheering wildly, and not down on the field actually competing.

Now let’s go back to Wayne Gretzky. He gave us the definition of his “instinct”. He thought about where the puck was going to be and went there to meet it. Was the puck there every time he went to where he thought it would be? No. But he was right enough to become the leading scorer in the history of professional hockey.

The point here is that as he said, he “thought” about it. It was not instinct as we currently like and want to define it. He was able to process the game situation, formulate a plan and implement it in such a way as to be in the right place at the right time in order to score. He did not just skate around waiting for people to pass him the puck. He was always aware of the situation and adjusted accordingly.

It seems to me that Gretzky’s “instinct” was more related to the way he saw and thought about the game as he played it. He was able to process the various locations and movements on the ice and anticipate where he thought the puck would be. Then he would go there. Since hockey is a game of split second decisions as I said he wasn’t right all the time, but he was right more often than anyone else.

Now let’s talk about business. Businesses love predictability. When things are predictable, just about anyone can anticipate what is going to happen.

In hockey this would be the equivalent of everyone knowing where the puck was going with the result that all of the players would be clustered around Gretzky waiting for the puck.

But in business, like hockey, not everything is predictable. Most everyone thinks in different ways and reacts differently to different inputs. For every Wayne Gretzky or Steve Jobs, there are a number of different elite players or leaders in the game. After all, someone else had to pass Gretzky the puck in order for him to score.

I think “instinct” whether in sports or in business is not some unseen or unconscious force associated with performance, but rather the ability to process and make connections between multiple inputs and variables that result in good decisions. It is the ability to think, sometimes faster than your competition, and most times more accurately than your competition.

Knowing where to go to meet the puck, or when to get out of bounds instead of turning and running up field, or when to invest in a new product or technology comes from understanding the multiple inputs associated with each situation, thinking through the alternatives, selecting and acting upon the best one.

As I said, Gretzky did it a lot. Jobs seemed to do it more often than not. We all remember the iPod, Mac and iPad. Does anyone remember NeXT computer or the Apple Lisa? Just asking. I am sure the Dallas receiver has made many more good game play decisions than bad ones. It’s just that his last bad one had such an immediate and visible result.

Not everyone makes the right decision every time. Instincts or not, business is very much like every other game out there: How quickly can you get to the right decision. How people think and process information obviously has a great deal to do with the decisions that they make. Different situations call for different types of thinking and decisions.

I think it is our natural instinct to migrate towards people who think and act like we do. This is a normal sort of reinforcement behavior. We tend to like people who agree with us as it reinforces the decisions we make. We need to think a little more about that. I think we need to actively encourage contrary behavior and thought processes. I don’t think we should view this behavior as open defiance or insubordination, but more as a check sum verification.

In looking at a replay of the Dallas receiver’s last play of the game, one of his team mates can be clearly seen trying to get him to run out of bounds instead of up field. It seems he didn’t see him or if he did, he didn’t pay attention to him. Either way it was obvious someone else had thought about the game situation and come up with a different decision for that situation.

As I have said, not everyone makes the right decision every time. And sometimes our instincts are wrong. It’s always good to listen to and think about other possible solutions before relying on instinct and turning and running up field.

It All Counts

After over seven years and more than three hundred articles, I took a little time off from blogging. I needed a break. It wasn’t much of a break. I think it was on the order of a few weeks. It was interesting in that the longer the break went the more I felt the need to get back to writing. I guess that wouldn’t be so bad if I felt I was a better writer.

Be that as it may, I will not allow my lack of talent to stop me from enjoying something. I prove this fact every time I try to play music. So I am back. I have a few new topics already in mind, but I think I will take my time in getting to them. What I will delve into today is going to be the new age joy and scourge of so many of us: Social Media.

My son is a senior in high school, and I believe him to be one of a vanishingly few individuals in North America (if not the civilized world) who does not participate in any social media. He has grown up during the age of social media. Still, he doesn’t have a Facebook account, or a Twitter feed, or any other of a number of social media sources. This pleases my wife since he is blissfully unaware of all the pictures, comments and proclamations she posts about him as he matriculates through life. He doesn’t tweet, friend, post, snap or chat with anyone. What is most surprising to me is that he seems genuinely happy about it too. Go figure.

When I have asked him about it he has blithely responded that he doesn’t see any benefit in participating in social media and if the truth be told he views it as a more of a problem then a benefit when it comes to communicating.

A long, long time ago in a black and white (television) galaxy far, far away, a guy named Art Linkletter had a television show named “Kids Say the Darndest Things”. My son just proved him right.

In this day and age of ubiquitous social media and the ability for anyone to access, generate and present any comment, image, content or position into cyberspace at any time, people seem to have forgotten a very important principle: Other people (not just the ones the content is intended for) can see and read these things. We would like to think that as we are well into the twenty first century that we all enjoy the benefits of freedom of speech and expression. To a large part we do. Except for when we don’t.

Abraham Lincoln said “With great freedom comes great responsibility.” He was as right then as he is now (except if he said it now he would have probably posted it on Facebook and LinkedIn and gotten a ton of “Likes” and “Shares”). What this means today is that just because we have the ability and even the forum to post or say anything we like, it doesn’t mean we should post or say anything we like.

I like picking on meteorologists because to me there are so few occupations where you can be wrong so often and still be regarded as a good meteorologist. I would have said great meteorologist, but that sounded too much like an oxymoron to me. Could there really be something called a great meteorologist?

A great baseball player actually hits the ball and gets on base about thirty percent of the time. This is called a three hundred batting average. Baseball players are praised for succeeding thirty percent of the time, while failing seventy percent of the time. I don’t know what the equivalent batting average is for a good meteorologist is, but I don’t think it is quite as high as a good baseball batting average.

In any event, the topic I am using as an example involves the dismissal of a meteorologist some time ago. This meteorologist wasn’t fired for their inaccurate predictions of the weather. I actually think most people rather expect meteorologists to get the weather prediction wrong. This meteorologist was fired for expressing their own personal opinion on the public forum called the internet.

It seems a group of people took issue with what the meteorologist posted and started to use their own internet based forums to complain. As the groundswell grew, this person’s professional fate was sealed. Job performance had nothing to do with it.

Please notice that I have not said anything about the content or the context of the purported comments. They were not illegal or threatening in any way. I am definitely not saying I agree with them in any way, shape or form. What I am saying is that they were perceived by various groups as being contrary to what those groups viewed as an acceptable position or comment. They took issue with them and as an ever widening group began to complain to the television station about what this meteorologist had posted.

A point I am making here is that it is now a very real and proven possibility that you can in fact lose your job based on what you post in social media or on the internet. The meteorologist in question is not an isolated instance of this type of professional reaction to personal comments. What might be possibly acceptable in the context of a private conversation may not be acceptable in the public realm of social media. What may be heard on the radio may not be acceptable for an individual on the internet.

Think about that for a minute. Some people can be paid for saying shocking things in public and others can be fired for doing the same thing.

Another point to be aware of is that with the quality of today’s search engines, the internet never forgets. Once a comment or post is released into cyberspace, it more than likely remains there forever. It doesn’t matter if it is deleted or erased. It can be exhumed over and over again. Where do you think I get most of my quotes and attributions?

What do you want to be remembered for?

Those embarrassing pictures taken at some party? Yup, they’re out there. That off the cuff, off color comment that you just had to post? It’s there too. That snarky response to someone else’s post? Who could forget that? I think you get the point.

I think those of us in business organizations, as well as just about everyone else I guess, need to remember that once we put something out there, that anyone including our associates, employers and customers have the ability to see it. And just as we are becoming more social media and internet savvy, so are they.

It is not uncommon for would be employers to research candidates via the web for their social media “fingerprints”. What better way to learn about people than to read what they have to say and do in these unrestricted very public forums? I would suspect that every company’s customers are probably doing the same searches as well.

I enjoy social media, and blogging. I actually try to use it as a constructive capability, if you can call this blog a constructive outlet. I’ll leave that to you to decide. I have tried to not lose sight of the fact that not everyone will agree with the positions that I may take. That is a more than acceptable condition as it is the discourse that results from these differences of views and opinions that keeps my interest in the forum. But I always try to understand others points of view before reacting with a potential off the cuff or inflammatory remark.

I think that it has yet to be decided what the outcome of my son’s lack of social media involvement will bring. Will his friends accept that he is “different” in that he doesn’t care to be on social media? Will he have to bow to peer pressure and get on social media if he wants to be able to communicate with his peer group? Will potential future employers be concerned when they do an internet search on him as a potential employment candidate and don’t find years worth of comments and posts?

Or is he possibly just ahead of the curve in recognizing that at least for him, he chooses to define the way he uses the internet as it relates to him?

I’ll have to think about that for a while. In the mean time, I think that as social media continues to garner more and more attention both within the real world and cyberspace, we need to be cognizant of the fact that regardless of what we put out there, it stays there for all to see, and it all counts.

Work Not Done

Everybody is talking about efficiency these days. And customer value. But mostly about efficiency. How do we become more efficient? How do we gain efficiency? All that kind of stuff. The drive is to reduce costs.

We have all heard the trite, stale, overused homilies. Do more with less. Work smarter not harder. Yadda yadda yadda. Right. In todays (over) process driven business environment, I am pretty much convinced that none of this is going to work. We have to get our collective heads around the idea that true efficiency is in fact going to come from doing less with less while still delivering the desired performance result. Efficiency is going to come from looking at what gets done while at the same time quantifying what was actually not needed to be done in getting the deliverable result.

In the past I have been party to and sometimes involved in multiple local, regional, global, galactic and intergalactic programs aimed at standardizing processes and methodologies in the name of gaining efficiency. For the most part none of them have been what I would call an unquestioned success. In many instances they actually seemed to have added incremental effort and complexity to the existing model for doing business.

I think what they all lacked was a business case that took the time to quantify what the work effort required to provide the desired deliverable was prior to the change or standardization and what the work effort to provide the same desired deliverable was at the end of the change or standardization process. Hopefully the new work effort is less than the initial work effort required for the same deliverable. The difference between these two amounts is the “Work Not Done”. This would be the quantifiable improved efficiency.

This value is the work that was being done, but now is no longer being done. You want this value to be as big as possible. A positive Work Not Done value means you have removed effort from a process. You have streamlined. You have become more efficient. A negative Work Not Done value means you have added effort to the process. You are less efficient.

For so long we have had it hammered into our collective business psyches that standardization equals efficiency. We strive to standardize our products, our services and our processes in the hope of eking out additional efficiencies and savings. We seem to have pursued this single minded approach to standardization against the competing back drop of infinite specialization with respect to both the roles required for delivering the standardization and the infinite variety of products being created from the standardization for the customers.

Figure that one out. But I digress.

I think the idea of Work Not Done should consist of looking at the work effort, process, functions, roles and people associated with the delivery of something towards an agreed goal, and then deciding what parts of it can be removed (or not done) and still successfully deliver the goal.

I think it can be and should be as simple as that.

Now this may sound suspiciously like some sort of “Lean” principle, where everything that does not contribute value to a customer should be removed.

I guess it actually does sound a little like that, even to me.

However, my point is that if we are going to try and be more efficient, let’s be more quantitative and less qualitative about it.

Stop me if you have heard this one before….

Most of these standardization drives, and by extension the drives for efficiency seem to be based on the concept or principle that if we standardize we will be more efficient. Standardization usually involved the creation of a centralized function group that would be responsible for the standard and its implementation. This group is normally referred to as incremental effort or over-head. They have been added to the existing process where they didn’t exist before. They would be considered “negative” Work Not Done (or “incremental work being done if you prefer”).

There is then the maintenance of the ongoing standardized process where there is significant effort over time from both the centralized standardization group and the other (regional?) groups that have been standardized. At the end of this standardization process there is usually a centralized group that remains in place since the standards must now be managed and the regional groups that are now utilizing the expected standards must report their adherence to these standards back to them.

There is usually no place in the drive for standardization where a baseline of the current effort spent is captured, an expected effort associated with implementing the standardization change is estimated and a resulting and hopefully lower new work effort line is estimated. This would result in a quantified Work Not Done going forward goal is set for the success of the standardization to be measured against.

If you are going to standardize, you ought to expect to get some efficiency out of it, otherwise, why would you do it?

When looking at the mechanics of a Work Not Done business case there would be an initial Work Not Done “Deficit” or debt incurred as there will be a period of time where there will be incremental work input into the process or system in an effort to change the way the current work method is conducted. Once the change has been implemented there needs to be an ongoing return on the Work Not Done investment in the form of the work that is no longer being done during the deliverable process. This is the actual efficiency or work savings paying back on the change effort work investment. It is expected that this Work Not Done payback will eventually cover the incremental cost associated with the change effort, and then start paying dividends in form of savings for the business.

The shorter this payback time, the more efficient the new process or capability is. This is a quantitative approach to the desire for efficiency.

As Robert McNamara (President Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense) once said:

“First get the data.”

I am also going to paraphrase one of my favorite authors here, Robert Heinlein. He said:

“If it can’t be expressed in figures, it’s not science. It is opinion”

Business keeps score, and reports it progress quarterly with figures. In fact many laws have been passed that limit a business’s ability to provide “opinion” on its relative or perspective performance lest they unfairly or inaccurately lead the market. There may be some qualitative (opinion) aspects to how a business reports its performance, but by and large it is quantitative and the figures speak for themselves. It would seem that this would also be a very good way to start looking at all efficiency and standardization programs – via the figure they generate.

I think many managers are of the opinion that simplification, cost reduction, streamlining, efficiency, etc can come from standardization. This is a qualitative approach. There is usually very little analysis (and quantification) of the incremental work required to implement a standardization change into a business. Everybody just seems to know that it is a good thing to do.

Heinlein addressed this type of topic in the past as well. He said:

“If “everybody knows” such-and-such, then it ain’t so, by at least ten thousand to one.”

I am not going to say that the odds are stacked that strongly against standardization in and of itself generating quantifiable efficiencies and cost savings. I just happen to think that most of that low hanging fruit associated with this argument has already been picked and that quantification of performance is needed.

If there is little analysis of the effort required to implement a standardization change, there is usually no time spent examining the Work Not Done payback that should be expected from such an effort. If a business is going to invest capital in an attempt to generate greater efficiency there is normally a return that is expected. Whether it is Return on Investment (ROI) or Return on (Invested) Capital (ROIC) there is a metric to see if you are efficiently using the capital resource.

When we are looking at trying to generate efficiencies, synergies or any other kinds of cost reduction we need to start implementing the same financial rigor into the process that we do when we are investing capital, and try and quantify the efficiency return we are looking for from a labor or a process modification investment. It should be in the form of Work Not Done.

Credibility

Let’s make certain that we are all on the same page from the start here:

Your personal credibility is the currency that you use for all of your business transactions. And like any other currency it is subject to many events and actions that can affect its value. Just like the value of the Dollar can fluctuate with respect to other currencies, the amount of credibility attributed to you can also fluctuate with respect to other leaders.

I had just read some article about writing that said something to the effect of “write killer first sentences to make sure you hook your readers into your story”, and thought I would give it a try. Somehow it doesn’t seem to have me hooked, but then again I’m writing this instead of just reading it. I await feedback to see what the rest of you think.

By the way, I didn’t finish the article. I guess I wasn’t fully hooked.

Despite the somewhat ham-handed introduction I want to look at the role that our credibility plays in business and leadership. I think it is important in that our personal credibility can be the difference between “compliance” with our requests and directives, and “commitment” to our leadership. Compliance occurs because you may inhabit a role where others who report to that role must respect the requests of the “office”. Commitment occurs when the transition is made from aligning with the requests of the office to aligning with the requests of the person in the office.

It’s subtle, but significant.

Credibility is a pretty strange concept. You can increase your credibility by doing incredible things. On the other hand you can decrease or even destroy your credibility by claiming to be able to do incredible things. Credibility is somewhat similar to a retirement or savings account. Credibility is built up over time with continually reinforced deposits. It is added to slowly over time. However it can be destroyed or fully withdrawn as the result of a single, poorly planned action.

Your credibility is based upon other people’s beliefs in your abilities.

Think about that for a minute. Your credibility is not entirely based upon your abilities. Your credibility is not entirely based on what you think you can do, or even on what you know you can do. It is based on what you have done and other people’s opinions of your abilities and what you have done. This idea can lead to multiple mismatches within the business organization.

You can believe you are credible, when others don’t. You can believe someone else is credible when others don’t. You can believe someone else lacks credibility when others ascribe credibility to them. All of these situations can add to the complexities already infesting the business process.

Many items contribute to people’s opinions. It is not just what they observe, but also what they are told, what they hear, and how it is presented. It is also based upon what people want to believe as well. People are required to sort through a blizzard of information on a daily basis. While we all strive to be as objective as possible, sometimes based on the inputs we have received it may be difficult. Such are the vagaries of credibility.

I guess that sometimes credibility doesn’t seem to matter. As I have noted before, we have all been through the various political election seasons where various politicians are contending to see who can appear to be the most credible while claiming to be able to do the most incredible things. This would seem to violate almost all of the precepts associated with credibility, but such is the case for politics. This seems to be a case of who can tell the most people what they want to hear, and not so much what they need to know.

However there are those in business that can also be described as being politically astute. I think that may be where the term originated with respect to business performance. We all know these types. They are more capable of being able to tell people what they want to hear and not so much what they need to know. We look upon them with a mixture of both derision and jealousy. They are able to take what appears to be failure and position it as success. They can take the smallest success and spin it as a game changing moment in business. They seem to be able to create credibility out of almost nothing at all.

Personally, I prefer to see the data.

Here in lies the issue with credibility. It is almost always a personal preference issue. By telling someone something that they want to hear, no matter how outlandish or impossible you can increase your credibility with that person. At the same time there may be those that recognize the implausibility of those statements and will accord a decrease in your credibility because of them.

Every time you say something or do something in business, you change your perceived credibility. Statements are interesting in that they can affect your credibility twice: once as they are first made when people can consider the relative plausibility of them, and then again a second time when the result of the statement can be measured out against the reality of the business performance.

It is somewhat interesting to me in that the credibility associated with actions can only be measured once, when they occur.

It is the action in business that is the credibility defining event. Promising huge growth, or market defining strategies, or game changing products are all well and good. We have all seen many such announcements. It is the delivery of growth, the implementation of strategies and the introduction of new products that define the true credibility. Sooner or later all statements or claims will eventually need to be backed up with performance and attainment.

We have all seen the effect of setting expectations in the valuations of companies in the market. During the quarterly earnings announcement times the company’s actual performance is measured against the markets perceived expectations for earnings. Those companies that consistently “miss” these expectations tend to be priced lower, because the expectations that they set lack credibility.

In short credibility is based on doing. It can be based on doing what you say you can do, but the key aspect is the doing. Meeting the deadline. Achieving the goal. Doing it almost as a matter of course. It seems that Tom Peters, the co-author of the book “In Search of Excellence” has been attributed as the first to coin the phrase:

“Under promise, over deliver.”

It sounds simple to do. If it was, everyone would have a high credibility rating. The reality is that not everyone ascribes to this approach. That’s why we have “marketing”.

Many things go into the credibility that you are accorded. Your level of confidence, how you position or phrase things, it may even be somewhat indefinable as in “charisma”. In the final analysis the end result of what you do will be the primary contributing factor to your credibility. If you are recognized as someone who does what they say they will do, then over time you will build credibility. If that is not the case, you will very quickly lose credibility. And once lost, credibility is very hard to regain.

I wish I could think of a short cut to generating credibility, but I can’t think of one right now. If someone else claims to have one, I might question their credibility.

The Perfect Metrics

I think we as a species inherently love to measure things. I take that back. We love to measure everything. I am not a baseball fan, but I find it humorously entertaining the number of statistics that are available for seemingly any situation in baseball. I think it is possible to find the batting average for any player in late innings, with runners in scoring position, for away games with left hander pitchers on the mound. Really? I guess there must be someone interested in all that, but I can’t think of who it might be.

I am a hockey fan and there are a whole new generation of metrics created which I am not sure I entirely understand yet, but are supposed to give a much better measurement of the quality of the hockey players on the ice today. It seems that you can now get statistics for third line shots generated or allowed, for defensive players on offensive zone draws in the third period. Okay. I understand what all that means, but I am not sure if I care. Just drop the puck and skate.

I am not quite sure but it seems that some people are trying to make hockey appear to be more like baseball through the use of more and more arcane and detailed metrics. Unless they allow baseball players to carry their bats with them out into the field when they play, (stealing bases would get a whole lot more interesting) instead of just when that are at bat, or figure out a way to make hockey a whole lot slower and more boring, this would not seem to be a plausible goal.

The roundabout introduction here is that to generate all of these baseball statistics, someone had to measure and record all of these actions and variables. They had to create the metrics. And once they created these metrics it became a challenge to create the perfect metrics to more perfectly measure and reflect the game. After over one hundred years they are still trying. This should convince everyone from the onset that there are no perfect metrics. There are only good metrics, and other measurements.

I have had the opportunity in the past to be involved with many metrics projects, programs and functions during my time in business. It has been both an enlightening and useful process to me. It has helped me on several levels when it comes to the successful leadership of a business. In business as in sports, metrics are in part how we keep score.

Metrics are interesting in that they are indicators of performance. Hockey players with good performance metrics tend to be on good teams. Good teams tend to win more games. Winning is usually thought of as being a good thing. The new, complex metrics associated with Hockey seem to go a long way toward providing supporting evidence for how good and accurate the older simpler metrics associated with Hockey actually are. Interesting how that works.

It also seems to go that if a few metrics provide a reasonable indication of individual or business performance, then as we have noted in baseball, a very large number of metrics should provide a significantly more specific and detailed indication of individual or business performance. This thought process is along the lines of the old adage “If a little is good, a lot must be better.”

To extend the baseball analogy that is like saying if a beer or two is good while watching a game then two cases of beer should be excellent. You can find yourself at the game in a state of unconsciousness, immobility or alcoholism.

Similarly you can find yourself in business with so many metrics and indicators that they will begin to provide too much, or even conflicting indicators to the point that you end up in an immobile situation. Hence the phrase “Paralysis by Analysis”. I think I may prefer to refer to this situation as “metricoholism”, or the over dependence on and addiction to metrics to the point of being dysfunctional.

Metricoholism is the inability to have just one, or even a few meaningful metrics. It’s more along the lines of once you get started measuring things, you can’t stop. Eventually you will have measured everything, but will then have no idea what to do about all that you have measured.

I have found that the value of metrics lies in the talent of the people that are interpreting them. Metrics in and of themselves need to be the indicators of where additional human interaction with the business processes may be required in order to understand the possible underlying issues associated with the numeric measurement anomaly (metric). Good metrics identify the leverage points where analysis and performance modification can have the greatest effect on the business. Good metrics simply point to where the leader must look to understand what is affecting their business’ performance indicator.

There was a recent movie about the use of metrics in sports. It was called “Moneyball”. It was nominally a baseball movie, which meant for me that I would wait for it to be on television before I would watch it. I usually don’t pay money to watch a live baseball game because it is as I said a rather boring game to me. Why would I pay money to watch a movie about a rather boring game?

Just as an aside not all baseball based movies fall into this category. I thought “Field of Dreams” and “Bull Durham” were very entertaining movies, in spite of their baseball based premises. However “The Natural”, not so much.

In any event, Moneyball was the story of how a specific baseball team changed the way the business of the sport was conducted. By changing the way that the humongous amount of data associated with baseball and the baseball players was interpreted, they changed the way players and teams were viewed, built and paid for.

That bears repeating. By changing the way that the standard data (that was available to everyone) about the game and each of players was interpreted, one team changed the way an entire century old sports institution looked at how teams were built and how they should best perform.

The value was not in the data. Everyone had the same data. The value was in how the data was interpreted.

While interpretation of the data is going to be the key to success when it comes to metrics, it is also best to remember what Robert McNamara (one of the original automotive industry “whiz kids” of the 1960’s) said. He said:

“First thing: Get the data.”

The point is that there is a lot of data available. Which data do you go get. If you were a Metricoholic you would end up trying to get all of the data, since partial data would not be satisfactory. Also as previously noted, this would be a mistake. It takes far too much time, money and effort to do this and what are you going to do different with one hundred percent of the data that you wouldn’t do with eighty percent of the data.

That was an oblique reference to the old eighty – twenty rule where you can get eighty percent of the data in twenty percent of the time. If you can get eighty percent of the data reasonably quickly, you can make excellent business decisions from that data, and move on.

Good metrics for a business need to be relatively simple and straight forward. They need to deal with the basic functions and core values of the business, not the ancillary capabilities. Revenue, costs and profitability are good examples of simple metrics that all businesses use. I think there is probably a good reason for that. Performance levels and adherence to service levels are good metrics for service related industries. There are certainly others and they can be customized by business type and industry.

The key and the value to good metrics lie in their simplicity and their interpretation. Complex metrics just provide you complex data that is difficult to interpret. Exhaustive numbers of metrics generate exhaustive amounts of data that requires exhaustive interpretation. No amount of metrics, or process for that matter, can replace the need for talented people who can interpret the data, then decide where and what to act on.

The idea of good metrics should be to create a few indicators that measure the specific core leverage points of a business or organization. They should provide both a historical trend (are they getting better or worse) and a specific snap shot of performance. They should indicate where the interpreter of the information should go look for issues, if they are indicating issues. They should not be expected to indicate what the cause of the problem is, and certainly not what the solution to any particular issue will be.

Almost every business in existence already has some sort of metrics. Some are probably good metrics and some are probably just measuring something. There will also probably be those in the organization that are clamoring for more metrics as a way to improve performance.

However, I have found that good metrics are usually like bitter medicine. They are best and most effective when delivered in small doses, and usually best prescribed by someone outside the organization that does not have a stake hold to protect.

Just like healing oneself, measuring oneself is sometimes a difficult thing to accurately and honestly do as well.

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.

Disposable Business

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a family sat despondently in their family room. They didn’t know what to do. Their color television had for some reason stopped working. Since they had never felt the need to communicate with each other while the TV had worked, they were now horribly out of practice. What to do? Things looked bleak. It was time for action.

Now here is where things get really weird. The eldest male of the family, the nominal head of the family unit (I say nominal head as this was only a fictional title. He actually reported to his mate, the most powerful woman in the universe) stood up, put the non-functioning television in the family’s means of conveyance (re: minivan) and took it to a place that was known as the repair shop.

Yes, he actually took the TV in to be repaired.

I can actually remember back to a time when this would not have been a fictional story. The reporting structure of the family is non-fiction. Every male, nominal head of a family does in fact report to their respective specific most powerful woman in the universe. The rest of this story is border line science fiction. Today when something breaks we don’t seem to fix it. We don’t even seem to be inclined to try and fix it. We just throw it away and go get another, newer one.

What used to seem to be a society based on the utilization of durable goods seems to have evolved to society based on the purchase of disposable goods. We don’t seem to want to fix anything anymore. When something breaks our first inclination is to get a new one. If that is not eminently feasible, the next step is to call someone to have them fix it. It has become the societal norm these days.

Now let’s go to go to different galaxy that is not so far away. We still have a disposable versus a repairable product mindset, but now we will be talking about businesses, not products. In this galaxy there is a business that has been performing well for many years, making products that have been well received and are well thought of by their customers. I was going to say that they made high quality, repairable televisions, but that would have been just a little excessive in my opinion.

Let’s say something now happens to this business. For whatever reason it is now no longer performing as well as it did. Its products are no longer well received nor are they well thought of by their customers. For lack of a better description, this business can now be considered broken.

Are broken businesses as disposable as broken products? How does a business actually break anyway? In a broken product, it is usually a component that fails and brings down the entire product. What happens when the components of the business are all still operating as they did when the business was not broken?

We were a culture that used to fix our own cars, change our own oil, fix our own flat tires, do our own home maintenance and improvement work. Now we just get a new replacement or call someone to come fix it. How does this culture translate to our new business models? What do we do when the current business model doesn’t work anymore?

I am fond of quoting Albert Einstein. I think he is universally recognized as a pretty bright guy, with the theory of relativity and all that. One of my favorite quotes of his, and I have used it before is:

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.”

I have met a few leaders that could actually change the way they think. There have not been many, but there have been a few. Most of the time a manager learns a way to do something successfully gets rewarded for that approach and spends the rest of their career replicating that solution set. They continue to think the same way. They just try to apply the same methodology in different situations.

Think of the old phrase:

“When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

In effect, they were once successful as a managerial hammer, and seem to have dedicated the rest of their managerial life to finding another perfect business problem nail.

Businesses are not disposable, and can invariably be repaired. Repairing a business changes it. It takes a different mindset. You can’t just call someone to come fix it. You can’t call a plumber or electrician to come fix it for you. You have to understand the plumbing and wiring of the business yourself. You have to get back to the mindset of changing your own oil and fixing your own flat tires.

Sorry for the poor metaphors, but I think you get my point.

Part of the solution may be to get a good plumber or electrician on your team, and to listen to them when they give you their recommendations and opinions.

I think this is the essence of learning to change the way you think. Sometimes you are the proper hammer for the current nail. Sometimes someone else is the proper hammer. The key is not being locked into a specific method or process of solving problems, and being able to recognize when things have changed and some different thinking is required.

A broken business is made up of many “working” people. I think that despite the trends to the contrary, they are not disposable. If they are performing poorly it is usually not because they want to perform poorly but rather they have been given poor leadership and are focusing on the wrong issues (re: nails). Disposing of them and getting new people will not fix that problem.

Remember, the thinking of those that got the business into its current state will usually not be sufficient to get it out of that state. The way the business is being managed, or those that are managing have to change. It is difficult for a leader to recognize that they must change. I think it is almost impossible for a manager to recognize that they must change.

I think our disposable product culture has taken its toll on our ability to repair broken businesses. At the risk of sounding too trite we seem to be predisposed toward disposable businesses. We seem to have evolved a mindset that if the current compliment of people cannot achieve the desired goals that we should dispose of them and replace them (like our products) with newer models.

The problem with that thinking is that it seems to be some of the thinking that may have been responsible for getting the business into its current state, and as Einstein noted, that probably won’t be sufficient for getting it out of that state.

Is Phil Mickelson Ruining Business?

I was watching the U.S. Open golf tournament the other day. I enjoy doing that because it gives me the chance to watch people who really know how to do their job which in this case is to play golf. Believe it or not I think I actually learn a little when I watch them as well. Not much, just a little. I feel the only thing that truly separates me from them is talent. They have it and I don’t. That and age, and flexibility, and focus, and drive and probably a few other traits that I am not currently aware of.

What I noticed about this broadcast was that they seemed to focus on the players’ recovery shots. The course was set up so that if you weren’t in the fairway you were in trouble. What I saw was a lot of miraculous recovery shots that were attempted from this trouble, and only a select few that were successfully executed. However, the guy who eventually won didn’t seem to attempt the miraculous on every shot. Truthfully he was probably not in trouble as often as the others, but when he was, sometimes instead of attempting the miraculous he just chipped out. He then tried to put the ball on the green and make a putt to save par. He did that a lot. The other guys didn’t. He won by like eight strokes, which in golf terms is the same as lapping the field, or a knockout.

Let’s get this straight right up front. Phil Mickelson is an amazing golfer. He has won forty two events on the PGA tour. He has won five major championships. He has spent over seven hundred weeks in the top ten of the world’s golf rankings. I cannot hit my driver as far as he hits his six iron, maybe even his seven iron if he decides to hit it hard. He is a crowd favorite everywhere he goes because of his demeanor on the course and his willingness to interact with the fans. So why do I think that he is ruining business? I think of him as the father of the miraculous recovery golf shot. He makes a lot of them and they are all highlight reel material. When we see what we think of as an “everyman” like Phil Mickelson pull off the miraculous recovery, we think we can all do it, and not just in golf.

David Feherty on the other hand, is a former professional golfer. While he did win five times on the European golf tour, he has never won on the PGA tour and may not have spent a single week in the top ten of the world’s golf rankings. He retired in nineteen ninety four to become a golf announcer. It is widely accepted that he is far better as a professional golf announcer than he ever was as a professional golfer. Why do I bring up David Feherty in responding to my question as to why I think Phil Mickelson may be ruining business? It is simple. David Feherty provided the following quote regarding Phil Mickelson:

“Watching Phil Mickelson play golf is like watching a drunk chasing a balloon near the edge of a cliff.”

We are now getting close to the point. 

Phil Mickelson will hit some of the most incredible shots in golf that will end up getting him into some of the deepest trouble possible on a golf course. He has been known to get a little wild, or to make some foolish decisions at the most inopportune times imaginable. What is amazing about him is that he can then hit some of the most amazing recovery shots humanly possible and put himself right back in the game again. Notice that I said he “can” hit amazing recovery shots. That doesn’t mean that he always does. Sometimes it works and he is almost unbeatable. Many times it doesn’t, and then things only get worse. Golf, like business is very unforgiving of compounded mistakes.

While it is true that he has won so many times on tour, what is not so widely publicized is the number of times that he lost when he should have or could have won, due to the erratic nature of how he plays the game of golf. In 2006 Phil Mickelson lost the U.S Open on the seventy second and last hole. He came to it leading by one and needing only a par to win. It was not an especially long hole, but as with all major championships it was not easy.

Instead of being a little conservative, and probably winning or at worst tying, he went for it as he always does. He teed off and knocked his drive into the trees.

Instead of playing it safe and smart (as this year’s U.S. Open winner did on several occasions), and pitching out to the fairway where he could then rely on his well documented and much acclaimed pitching and putting skills to get his par, he went for the fabulous recovery shot. Mere mortals could not have hit the shot he was going to try and hit.

He was going to bend a shot around some trees and knock it on the green from more than two hundred yards away. It didn’t work. He hit another tree and the ball came rolling back toward him.

Now he is laying two, and he needs a four to win or a five to at least tie, and he is no better off than he was before.

He goes for it again because now he has to. This time he gets it around the trees, but misses the green and it ends up in a difficult lie in the greenside bunker. Now he needs to get it out of the bunker and in the hole in two shots just to tie.

He gets it out of the bunker, but misses the putt to tie and just like that he loses the tournament.

While Phil Mickelson is renowned for his miraculous recovery shots, there will always be the question of should he have avoided the trouble in the first place. Could he have played it smart and not hit his sometimes erratic driver, opting for a club that he could have more easily used to hit the fairway? Once in the woods could he have made a better choice that would have taken losing the tournament outright out of the equation, while still giving him the chance to win? Mistakes in golf, like in business can always happen, and when you do find yourself in trouble is it always the best course of action to go for broke on the recovery?

History has shown that most attempts at miraculous recovery shots fail, otherwise it would not be considered so miraculous when they succeeded. If they always succeeded they would just be recovery shots, not miraculous recovery shots.

Too many times it seems that businesses can find themselves in a difficult situation and instead of playing to their own strengths and capabilities, play for the miraculous recovery. Most of the time when they try the go for broke recovery in business, the business does indeed go broke. There are examples of successes using this approach. They usually end up in some business school case study where they are captured and passed down to future generations.

I think they are more like lightning strikes in a rain storm. They are relatively rare, individual events, and as the saying goes lightning doesn’t usually strike twice in the same place.

Actually in golf getting struck by lightning even once is not considered a good thing. That’s normally why we go inside when it starts to rain. Getting struck by lightning of a golf course will usually ruin your round, and probably any future rounds you had ever planned on playing.

In golf a steady performer is known as a “grinder”. A grinder is someone who works at minimizing their mistakes and maximizing their opportunities. A grinder usually doesn’t have less talent; they usually just don’t take as many risks. When a grinder makes a mistake or does find themselves in a difficult position, they weigh all the risks and rewards with an eye toward realistically minimizing the downside risk. They understand that they may not be able to win the tournament with a good decision, but that they can certainly lose it with a bad one. Making par after a mistake is not a bad score.

Tiger Woods is a possible example of the ultimate grinder. He has been the best golfer in the world for almost as long as Phil Mickelson has been in the top ten. He rarely makes mistakes to the point that it is extraordinarily uncommon that he ever beats himself. The majority of the other top ten golfers in the world are probably best described to one exten
t or another as grinders also. This means that the riskier, more swashbuckling approach to golf that Phil Mickelson so successfully uses is much more the exception than the rule for the truly successful.

Miraculous recoveries are attention grabbing by their very nature. Few of the attempts are really ever successful despite the numbers that are tried. Those that are successful however are very widely reported and seem to take on an image and a life all their own. Miraculous recovery attempts seem to have become the standard against which we want to measure all performances, be it in golf or in business.

A business that finds itself challenged might better learn from this year’s U.S Open winner. He calculated when to go for the miraculous, and when to play it smart and just chip out of trouble and play on. Phil Mickelson has finished second six times in the U.S. Open indicating he definitely has the talent and capability, but has never won. This year he was sixteen shots back. Businesses are also always competing and need to understand that while the miraculous is usually widely reported, that by its very nature cannot be expected to regularly occur.

Setting realistic goals for each shot a business is going to take is a key to a business’s ongoing success. It’s better to leave the miraculous recovery shots to the golfers.