Saturday, May 26, 2012

Values and Behavior

Assumption: Values matter in a company because they form the foundation of how people behave in the company. What we are really after are a set of behaviors that will best give us the results we are after. 

In Patrick Lencione’s book Advantage he recommends as one of the best ways to identify what values are core to an organization is a three step process:

  • First, the leadership team picks the employees in the organization who already behave in the manner that makes them admired my the leadership team.  Make a list of all the attributes that make them so revered and this list is the pool of candidates for your core values.
  • Second, the leadership team then identifies people who drive them crazy and would be more valuable if they were not there.  Take the opposite of whatever makes then so annoying and those things are candidates for your values.
  • Third, the leaders honestly self-evaluate themselves to verify that they too embody the values thus selected.

We use this methodology as part of the Entrepreneurial Operating System.  It works well with small companies.  The smaller the better for this method.  If you’ve kept up on the hot topics of behavior and bias you will recognize a big flaw with the process.  That’s because the sampling method is highly biased.  Where the population size is very small, this is a smaller problem. But, the larger the pool of people gets, the less representative the selected people in Lencioni’s method become.
We did this with a company of 11 people.  Four of them were in the room.  This allowed the leadership team to look at all of the other seven people remaining and while they pick three of them as representative of the good, and one of the bad, they agreed that the three were indeed fairly representative of all the rest.  Had the company consisted of 250 people, or 5,000 people, no claim of representativeness would have been credible. The method works ok for a company of 11 people.  What we end up defining is really a set of behavioral guides.
We utilize this method because human beings believe in causal relationships between what someone values and how they behave.  And since we work with smaller companies, in the grand scheme of things we get close to the result we’re after using the methodology, so why fight the brain’s city hall.  
But, it is just not true that values drive behavior.  What turns out to be true, is that the environment makes a huge difference in how our values influence our behavior. Starting with the Milgram experiment, there is a ton of psychological research to demonstrate this.  Without going into a lot of detail here, look at the video below and you will realize that the degree to which our values influence our behavior depends upon the context.

The point is, we really can skip all this nonsense about values and go straight to answer the question, how do we engender the behaviors we are after?

Dan Ariely: Why we think it's OK to cheat and steal (sometimes)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Letting Kahneman's System 2 lazily lounge around.

Daniel Kahneman proposes that we have two brain systems, System 1 operates automatically and quickly.  It requires no apparent effort and you have no sense of voluntary control over it.  System 2 requires attention and effortful mental activity. System 2 is the thinking we believe we are directing and performing.    Please participate in a one question exercise.  Click here.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Leader Speak -- Advocacy vs Inquiry

In my previous blog I talked about replacing statements that start with “I think...” with questions that start with “How do we...”.  In his new book “Advantage” Patrick Lencioni refers to Chris Argyris, a Harvard Professor, who distinguishes between Advocacy and Inquiry as the two critical ways that members of effective teams must communicate.
Advocacy is about stating your case, and usually begins with “I think...”.  Inquiry happens when people ask question to seek clarity.  Unfortunately the examples in the book around Inquiry are examples of poorly constructed question.  The first example is “Why do you think the advertising approach is wrong?”  If your read my previous blog, you will immediately see what is wrong with this question.  It asks a question that begs for an answer that continues the Advocacy  “I think we should change our advertising because it is too juvenile for our target market.”   The better inquiry question is “How do we determine if our advertising approach is right or wrong?”  
Another example given is “What evidence do you have that our expenses are too high? And how certain are you of this?”  The first question is ok, although I would have replaced the “you” (which can be seen as a bit accusatory) with “we” to distance ourselves from Advocacy.  The second question, “And how certain are you of this” is problematic.  We don’t care how certain someone is of an opinion.  We need the facts, and the only relevant question is “What are the facts?”

If your competition is making its business decisions around opinion and conjecture, and in your business you are challenging opinions and conjecture, then you have a competitive advantage.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Leader Speak: "I think..." / "How do we..."

In my previous blog I talked about roadblock statements managers make in failing at their role as leader in an enterprise.  What leaders say, and how they listen determines the level of engagement, problem solving, innovation, and joy that others enjoy in the enterprise.  Here is a very specific example of what not to say, and what to say.
When the boss opens his or her mouth, do you know what the two most counterproductive words are?  They’re “I think.”  By starting your statement with “I think...”, you immediately tell your subordinates what they should be thinking and saying.  Unfortunately the words “I think...” have become such a natural part of our speech pattern that it is hard to even notice when we are using them. 
In Good to Great, Jim Collins wrote:
“The sign reminded me of our interview with Walter Bruckart, vice president during the good-to-great years.  When asked to name the top five factors that led to the transition from mediocrity to excellence, Bruckart said, ‘One would be people. Two would be people. Three would be people. Four would be people. And five would be people. A huge part of our transition can be attributed to our discipline in picking the right people.’”
If you think Bruckhart was talking about the right people in terms of their ability to do manual labor, you’d be mistaken.  It was their brainpower that mattered.  “I think...” undermines that most valuable resource, the thinking of the right people.  If you want to maximize your investment in people, now is the time to reduce the use of “I think...” and ultimately remove these most unproductive words from your vocabulary completely.  This includes using them socially and in your family.  
Instead, replace the words “I think...” with a sentence that begins with something like “How do we...”.  For example, instead of saying “I think Simon Sinek is right, our customers buy our products because of our internal ‘why’.”  Replace that with something like “How can we determine if our customers buy our products because of our internal ‘why’?”  
We have a little tool to help a leader get rid of their “I think...”s and replace them with “How do we...”s.  If you’d like the tool, send me an email with your mailing address to

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Leader Speak: Ignore the Roadblocks

I recently read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs.  In Chapter 41 President Obama visits Silicon Valley and meets with a group of several CEOs including Jobs.  A supporter of Obama, Steve Jobs found himself dismayed that President Obama kept explaining to him why things can't get done.
Robert Sutton at Stanford express similar dismay in a blog about ‘No We Can’t’  mindsets: “I sometimes believe that the core competence of GM managers and executives is explaining why they are powerless to make sensible changes...  And, unfortunately, when people believe that organizational change is impossible, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
That reminded me of a set of ‘perfectly reasonable’ statements Robert Galvin put in his book “Idea of Ideas”.  These are things you’re likely to hear from managers:

“We can’t do everything.”
“We can only afford so many development projects.”
“There are only so many good people.”
“We’ve got to make a healthy profit first.”
These too are roadblock statements.  Galvin’s point was that a company creates and sustains itself by going farther.  Galvin suggested that you must go beyond what you know you can do, beyond what the customer tells you, and into the space of “Total Imaginable Market”.  Think ahead to where the customer can go, where technology can take the customer, not where the customer is.  And then just go there.  Galvin suggests leaders ask questions: "How can we do everything?" instead of "We can't do everything."  You still won't do everything, but you'll likely to more. 

Of course the prime example of this success model is Steve Jobs who designed and built products that showed us what we didn’t even know we wanted.  What Steve Jobs was famous for was his Reality Distortion Field.  He repeatedly got his team to do what they thought was impossible by simply insisting that they could do it.  So it is easy to imagine his dismay when the leader of the free world behaves in exactly the opposite way and shows himself an expert at throwing up roadblocks to his own (and the nation’s) success.
Big Hairy Audacious Goals are achievable only if we insist we do them.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

In a meeting someone raved about Simon Sinek’s Ted Video “Start with Why...”.  This is what Simon discovered “People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”  He uses Apple as an example.  
Hence, according to Sinek the reason I own a MAC is because “Apple believes in challenging the status quo. Apple believes in thinking differently.”  

This was news to me.
Actually, Sinek’s assertion is nonsense.  The only ‘Why’ that matters here, is my ‘why’ for buying the MAC, and it has nothing to do with ‘challenging the status quo’,(I’m not even sure what that means).  Apple could challenge the status quo by building a brick that does no computing at all.  That would be thinking differently.  But then I probably wouldn’t buy the MAC.  The reason I bought the MAC is because it works!  And after owning lots of PCs, having something that works is great!