Monday, May 25, 2009

Hey, What Are We Anyway – Automatons?

Yesterday I was listening to a BusinessWeek podcast when the guest said:

“Too often we hire people to solve our problems, when we’re supposed to be hiring them to carry out our solutions.”

Do I agree? Well, Perhaps. That is, if you’re mowing lawns for a living and have just one truck.

The rest of us have to ask ourselves: ‘What business am I in”? And there’s really just one answer – as pointed out by Craig Stull, Phil Myers, and David Meerman Scott in their book Tuned In:

‘We’re in the business of continuous problem solving for our market’.”

If you’re really just hiring people to ‘carry out your solution’ then you’re going out of business. Markets move quickly these days. If , like chimpanzees brachiating through the tree tops, you’re not moving from solution to solution, you’ll be overtaken by competition.

As a business leader, you are very susceptible to mindset that endorses the current solution. You need problem solvers at every level of your business to keep the pool full of new ideas. And don’t expect you’ll know a good idea when you first hear it. Chances are, that at first, you will think the best idea you hear this year is utterly stupid. You’ll be in the company of famous leaders who’ve done the same thing – Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Thomas Watson of IBM, Ken Olson of Digital Equipment, William McKnight the legendary Chairman and CEO of 3M, and many others.

Success = Hire problem solvers and give them space to work.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Bruce Nussbaum @ 2009 Innovation Summit

At the 2009 Innovation Summit: Design + Innovation = Sustainability I met Bruce Nussbaum who I've heard a number of times on BusinessWeek podcasts. He is the Assistant Managing Editor at Business Week. Bruce is also the Professor of Innovation and Design, at Parsons the New School of Design in New York.

I had the chance to spend a few minutes with him during a break. I mentioned that I'd heard him on BusinessWeek podcasts which I download from iTunes to my Blackberry. That led into a conversation about how different generations approach technology. I then brought up the issue of the entrance of Generation Y into the workforce and how that might reshape the workplace to the benefit of everyone.

Greg Woodard calls Gen Y the 'entitlement generation' who get rewarded just for showing up. "Here's your trophy from the 8 team soccer tournament, congratulations on good play and eighth place!" Stephanie Armour, adds to this in an article a while back in USA TODAY. She quotes Bruce Tulgan, a founder of New Haven, Conn.-based RainmakerThinking, which studies the lives of young people.
"Gen Y has been pampered, nurtured ...with a slew of activities ... meaning they are both high-performance and high-maintenance."

Stephanie goes on: "Generation Y is much less likely to respond to the traditional command-and-control type of management still popular in much of today's workforce," says Jordan Kaplan, an associate managerial science professor at Long Island University-Brooklyn in New York. "They've grown up questioning their parents, and now they're questioning their employers. They don't know how to shut up".

I suggested to Bruce that Gen Y's will be less likely to play a subordinate role in workplace relationships. They will expect to be treated as peers-- as adults. This is a good thing because problem solving requires getting to the truth around the customer problem you are trying to solve. If the dialogue is not on an adult-to-adult level then truth suffers. The objective of the conversation has an undertone of positioning and that 'political need', that 'survival need' for the subordinate, takes precedence.

If Gen Y brings more adult-to-adult dialogue into a company, the company has taken a huge step toward Trust, one of the three key elements to being an competitively innovative company.*

Bruce gave the closing speech at the Summit and I was delighted when he referred briefly to our conversation and the impact of Gen Y on the workplace.

*To be a competitive powerhouse a company needs to be great at problem solving and innovation. To be great at both you need the right work environment that fosters truth and action. The foundational elements are TEEˢ ͫ -- Trust, Engagement, Empowermentˢ ͫ.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Emotional Intelligence

Over the past several weeks I have received multiple email solicitations for a conference on Emotional Intelligence. Then today I received a snail mail package for a different conference also on Emotional Intelligence. This must be the latest management fad. I laughed when I got it, wondering what possible mailing list might have made the assumption I might be the right target. This focus on Emotional Intelligence is a dog hunting its own tail.

When I opened it I found this statement:
“Emotional Intelligence is synonymous with good leadership. It consists precisely of those social and emotional skills necessary to motivate and inspire subordinates, to manage with understanding and respect, and to resolve conflicts and ease tensions as they arise.”

Well, those who know me well won’t be surprised that there is not a single sentence in that paragraph which I think is correct.

“Emotional intelligence is synonymous with good leadership”? Everyone has emotional intelligence just as everyone has the other kind of intelligence. I think they might mean high EQ = leadership. But in what way? The mailing suggests it is partially this skill “to resolve conflicts and ease tensions as they arise”? I knew a manager who was very good at resolving conflicts and easing tensions. He couldn’t stop himself. The instant conflict arose he would jump in to mediate. He is probably the most emotional intelligent person I know. But he was a terrible leader.

That’s because conflict isn’t always a bad thing. Particularly when the conflict is around getting to the true nature of a problem. Christopher Morley wrote: “There is no squabbling so violent as that between people who accepted an idea yesterday and those who will accept the same idea tomorrow”.

The ideas Dr Morley refers to are ideas about change. The truth is, it is natural for us, as humans, to react negatively to change. It is how our brains work and it is what allows us to repeat success behaviors. But change is also natural and necessary, and conflict is one way we overcome the natural tendency to resist change. With conflict you do get tension. Great leaders allow conflict and tension to arise. They also give conflict time to resolve itself. You only need to step in when the conflict becomes damaging. A lot of conflict has a personal element to it, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily damaging.

The mailing states that (high) Emotional intelligence “consists of those social and emotional skills necessary to motivate and inspire subordinates.” The word ‘subordinates’ is telling when used with how people become motivated and inspired. Great leaders do not motivate with fear. Bad managers, however, often do motivate with fear. But fear tends not to be to inspirational. "The beatings will stop when morale impoves!"

Great leaders know there is only one source of motivation that works, and that's self-motivation. But more importantly, great leaders know that almost everyone is capable of being self-motivated. All a leader needs to do is align the individual’s personal sense of self-worth, with the work they do.

A great leader creates an environment where Trust, Engagement, and Empowerment define the workplace. Ideas like “managing with understanding and respect, and … easing tensions” say that we should all play nicely together. These ideas suggest it is most important that if things get a little tense, we nip that in the bud before we move on.

What great companies do, is face the truth, the hard truth, head on. Truth seeking is messy. Misunderstandings and tensions are part of that. But in environments of Trust, Engagement, and Empowerment, these misunderstandings and tensions resolve themselves, and they are not important.

Emotional Intelligence is not synonymous with leadership.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Made to Stick Story

In Made to Stick, Dan and Chip Heath talk about making a message stick with your audience. They say it should be a story that is crafted to have an unexpected ending, with a concrete message that is credible, emotional and simple (S.U.C.C.E.S.).

Ed Baker, who is a terrific help to any business owner when they find themselves is a tight spot relative to human resources, recently had a S.U.C.C.E.S. home-run with an interesting twist. Ed sent a newsletter to his network which contained a questionnaire on one side, and the answers on the other. The questionnaire was about regulatory requirements around aspects of Human Resources.

The ‘story’ is one that came back to Ed when a business owner called him up. The owner told Ed that he tested himself with the questions and when he turned the paper over, was very surprised when he failed to get half the questions right.

Wondering how his own experts would do, he made several copies of the front of the questionnaire. He called in his HR team and gave it to them as a test. You’ve probable guess that they had an unexpected result. The HR team also failed the test.

You can imagine how the owner felt. He’d turned Ed’s newsletter into a concrete example of his company’s need -- and he realized that Ed offered a credible opportunity to add value to the company. Ed had conveyed his value in a very simple way that turned into a S.U.C.C.E.S. story.

If you’d like a copy of his questionnaire, send an email to Ed at

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bonehead PayPal

PayPal’s website states that “the purpose of PayPal is:

  1. Your sensitive financial information is securely stored on our servers.
  2. When you use PayPal to pay online, you provide only your PayPal email address.
  3. The merchants/retailers receive payment from PayPal without ever seeing your financial information.”

Now I have received the following:
We've updated your PayPal account.

Now you can pay without tapping in to your PayPal balance.
Hello Customer,

We're always looking for ways to improve and perfect PayPal to make sure you have the best possible experience. So from June 8, 2009 'til June 8, 2010, we're giving some of our members - including you! - some new payment options, and we'd love to hear what you think.

Up til now, if you had a balance in your PayPal account, that balance was automatically applied towards any purchase you made.

But from June 8, 2009 through June 8, 2010, your default payment source will be automatically set to your credit card instead of your balance*. So, even if you have money in your PayPal account, you can leave your balance for future use. And if you have more than one credit card on file with PayPal, just log in to verify which card is set as your default.

Don't want to pay with your credit card? No problem. Just click "Change" under "Payment method" when you're reviewing your purchase during checkout.

We'll check in with you after you've had a chance to try out your new options-any feedback you give us would be truly appreciated. You could help shape the future of PayPal!

If you have any questions at all, please visit our Help Center

Aside from the fact that this new ‘option’ steps all over the PayPal stated purpose, and that it is not an ‘option’ at all since I apparently don’t have any choice, it seems clear to me that they are disingenuous when they say they’d “love to hear” what I think. Well perhaps, but not yet. They provide no mechanism for providing that feedback right now, and, obviously, I am ready to respond!

Of course, I don’t need to try this new option, as if I haven’t already had the ability to pay online with credit cards. In fact, since you cannot pay for everything with PayPal, e.g. Amazon, you have to use credit cards. I use PayPal because it is an alternative to credit cards. PayPal must figure it will make more money with credit card transactions. Well, I guess I can always not use PayPal until June 9th 2010.

What a bonehead move PayPal!!!