The Secret To Self-Management And Organizational Success

At its core, business is simple. It is about serving others. People make it complicated. Re-focus on the basics: serving your employees, customers, and communities then abundance will follow.

Imagine if . . .

  • Everything your employees did had meaning and purpose for them and your organization.
  • Employees always knew what to do and where to focus their efforts because of common purpose.
  • Employees had simple, understandable rules to guide them towards common purpose.

How much more engaged and productive would they be? How much more successful would your organization be?

No Purpose, No Will

I recently visited Oxford Castle in England where I experienced the Crank Machine, a tool of physical and psychological punishment utilized in the 19thcentury prison system.

As the name implies, the Crank Machine has a handle which can be turned or “cranked.” The hardship: this particular handle is connected to nothing but pulleys and brakes, making the turning of it more difficult. Think about the toughest spinning class you ever attended and then some. With a stationary bike you don’t go anywhere, but you can achieve an effective and balanced workout. The Crank Machine was tied to nothing productive. As a form of punishment, prisoners were compelled to turn it up to 15,000 times a day in their jail cell.

The Crank Machine’s sole purpose was to break the will of prisoners – to extinguish their purpose and engagement in life.

Stop Breaking The Will Of Your Employees

Do you hold weekly business update meetings no one finds valuable, but fail to rework them for the benefit of attendees? Have you asked for such meeting feedback?

Do you request weekly work updates from your employees? Or worse, daily updates? While your intentions may be good and have business value, do your employees perceive the reports as simply a way to make sure they are working when not supervised?

While my Crank Machine example is admittedly extreme, modern organizational tasks perceived to have little or no value can have the same, negative impact on employees. The very act of doing such work could demotivate and punish someone wanting to make a difference in your organization.

Studies show nothing is more disengaging than doing work without perceived value, even if you are paid well for it.

So, how do you eliminate wasteful, non-value added work in your organization and benefit from deeply engaged, self-managed employees? Keep your business simple, maintain common organizational purpose and follow the ants.

Let The Ants Lead

Did you know highly organized ant colonies – sometimes numbering in the billions – have no leadership? Despite this, ant colony organization is so advanced, effective and purpose-driven that notable companies like Southwest AirlinesAir Liquide and others have used their pattern of behavior to solve complex business challenges.

Ants are self-managed. They use triggers and interactions in their local environments to independently guide their work decisions. This is possible because all ants embrace a common purpose and follow a few, simple rules.

When building their nests, researchers discovered three, main rules ants consistently follow:

  • They picked up grains at a constant rate, approximately two grains per minute
  • They dropped them near other grains, forming a pillar
  • They choose grains previously handled by other ants

It can be deduced from the research that ants self-manage themselves based on the rhythms and connections in their environment. In a human equivalent, these connections could be the rate others are working nearby and what is seen/heard in their area. Providing there is common purpose for every person involved in the task, no defined leadership is needed to accomplish it. Successful examples of this self-managed model can be found in thriving organizations like L.W. Gore & AssociatesZapposThe Morning Star Company and Treehouse.

Discover Your Organizational Purpose

To create an environment which fosters a high level of self-management and engagement, employees must be aligned under a common organizational purpose. A simple way of discovering this purpose would be to ask the following questions:

  • Why does my organization exist?
  • Why was it started in the first place?

By flipping the questions around, you can gain a powerful new perspective on your common organizational purpose:

  • What would happen if my organization disappeared today?
  • Would it be missed?
  • Would my customers struggle? How?
  • Would my market struggle? How?
  • Would life go on without missing a beat?

By answering these questions and having your employees do so, too, you can gain useful insights into what is really valuable work – that which serves your employees, customers and community – and what is simply wasting time and disengaging your workforce.

Let your organization evolve from employees with a common purpose. Go back to the reason your organization exists in the first place – its purpose – and focus only on work which feeds that purpose.

How far off is your organization from this model? Please let me know in the comments area below.

Also, check out my new book How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love (Second Edition) at

4 Questions Great Interviewers Ask

By Jeff Haden via

Most job candidates feel interview questions can be decoded and hacked, letting them respond to those questions with “perfect” answers.


Guess what: They’re right, especially if you insist on asking opinion-based job interview questions. Every candidate comes prepared to answer general questions about teamwork, initiative, interpersonal skills, leadership, etc.

Interviewing is an imprecise process, but you can improve your ability to evaluate candidates by asking interview questions that elicit facts instead of opinions. Why?

I can never rely on what you claim you will do, but I can learn a lot from what you have already done. Where employee behavior and attitude are concerned, the past is a reasonably reliable indication of the future.

So how do you get to the facts?

Ask. Ask an initial question. Then follow up. Dig deeper to fully understand the situation described, determine exactly what the candidate did (and did not do), and find out how things turned out.

Follow-up questions don’t have to be complicated. “Really?” “Wow… so what did he do?” ”What did she say?” “What happened next?” “How did that work out?”

All you have to do is keep the conversation going. At its best, an interview is really just a conversation.

Here are my four of my colleagues’ favorite behavioral interview questions:

1. ”Tell me about the toughest decision you made in the last six months.”

Goal: Evaluate the candidate’s ability to reason, problem solving skills, judgment, and possibly even willingness to take intelligent risks.

Red flag: No answer. Everyone makes tough decisions regardless of their position. My daughter works part-time as a server at a local restaurant and makes difficult decisions every night, like the best way to deal with a regular customer whose behavior constitutes borderline harassment.

Positive sign: Made a difficult analytical or reasoning-based decision. For example, wading through reams of data to determine the best solution to a problem.

Outstanding sign: Made a difficult interpersonal decision, or better yet a difficult data-driven decision that included interpersonal considerations and ramifications. Making decisions based on data is essential, but almost every decision has an impact on people as well.

The best candidates naturally weigh all sides of an issue, not just the business or human side exclusively.

2. “Tell me about a time you thought a decision was wrong, but you still had to follow directions.”

Goal: Evaluate the candidate’s ability to follow… and possibly to lead.

Red flag: Found a way to circumvent guidelines “… because I know I was right,” or followed the rules but allowed their performance to suffer. (Believe it or not, if you ask enough questions, some people will tell you they were angry or felt stifled and didn’t work hard as a result, especially when they think you empathize with their “plight.”)

Positive sign: Did what needed to be done, especially in a time-critical situation, then found an appropriate time and place to raise issues and work to improve the status quo.

Outstanding sign: Not only did what needed to be done, but stayed motivated and helped motivate others as well. In a peer setting, an employee who is able to say, “Hey, I’m not sure this makes sense either, but for now let’s just do our best and get it done…” is priceless. In a supervisory setting, good leaders are able to debate and argue behind closed doors and then fully support a decision in public even if they privately disagree with that decision.

3. “Tell me about the last time a customer or coworker got mad at you.”

Goal: Evaluate the candidate’s interpersonal skills and ability to deal with conflict. Make sure you find out why the customer or coworker was mad, what the interviewee did in response, and how the situation turned out both in the short- and long-term.

Red flag: The interviewee pushes all the blame — and responsibility for rectifying the situation — on the other person.

Positive sign: The interviewee focuses on how they addressed and fixed the problem, not on who was to blame.

Outstanding sign: The interviewee admits they caused the other person to be upset, took responsibility, and worked to make a bad situation better. Great employees are willing to admit when they are wrong, take responsibility for fixing their mistakes and learn from experience.

Remember, every mistake is just training in disguise… as long as the same mistake isn’t repeated over and over again.

4. “Tell me about the last time your workday ended before you were able to get everything done.”

Goal: Evaluate commitment, ability to prioritize, and ability to communicate effectively.

Red flag: “I just do what I can and get the heck out of there. I keep telling my boss I can only do so much but he won’t listen…. “

Positive sign: Stayed a few minutes late to finish a critical task, or prioritized before the end of the workday to ensure critical tasks were completed. You shouldn’t expect heroic efforts every day, but some level of dedication is certainly nice.

Outstanding sign: Stayed late and/or prioritized… but most importantly communicated early on that deadlines were in jeopardy.

Good employees take care of things; great employees take care of things and make sure others are aware of potential problems ahead of time just in case other proactive decisions make sense.

Keep in mind there are a number of good and great answers to this question. “I stayed until midnight to get it done” can sometimes be a great answer, but doing so night after night indicates there are other organizational or productivity issues the employee should raise. (I may sometimes be glad you stayed late, but I will always be glad when help me spot chronic problems or bottlenecks.) Evaluate a candidate’s answers to this question based on your company’s culture and organizational needs.

There are plenty of other behavioral questions you can use. Just know that when you stick to fact-based questions you quickly get past a candidate’s prepared answers; few candidates can bluff their way through more than one or two follow-up questions. Plus, you’ll easily identify potential disconnects between a candidate’s resume and their actual experience, qualifications and accomplishments.

And best of all you’ll have a much better chance of identifying potentially great employees, because awesome candidates tend to stand out during fact-based interviews.

Employee Conflict: A Manager’s Challenge

It seems as though the world has never been without conflict – it appears to be one of life’s givens. In fact, almost on a daily basis we read about a conflict going on in some part of the world, one of the most current being the continuing unrest in the Arab World.

As with countries, conflicts often occur in the workplace. Although employees do not necessarily take up arms against one another, their conflict, nevertheless, can create havoc and adversely impact on productivity. However, managers do have the power to prevent the acceleration of employees’ conflict and bring about a positive outcome.

Before we can look at ways to help employees resolve their conflicts, we must first define what we mean by the word conflict. According to Webster’s dictionary, conflict is: a sharp disagreement or collision in interests, ideas, etc.• Thus, from this definition, we can conclude that it is not necessarily the occurrence of conflict that results in a negative aftermath; rather, it is the method used to resolve the conflict. Therefore, helping employees constructively resolve their conflict provides an important challenge for managers.

How do you meet this challenge? Well, here are some pointers for helping your employees resolve their conflict:

  • Give them an opportunity to resolve the conflict on their own. Employees need to be given a chance to be successful in solving their own problems and resolving their conflicts. This provides them with learning experiences they can build upon and at the same time enhances their self-esteem.
  • Act immediately if they are unable to independently resolve the conflict. You must step in right away if your employees are unable to work out a constructive resolution within a reasonable amount of time. Don’t wait until the conflict accelerates and ends up out of control.
  • Listen to both sides of the issue. To understand the nature of the conflict it is important that you listen with an open mind as each employee tells you his or her own story. Your task is to get the facts. However, it is important to recognize that each person will be relating his or her perception of the facts; it is up to you, as manager, to take the information and determine what the real issues are and what actually has occurred.
  • Separate the issues from the people conflict. Conflicts come about as a result of differences in opinions, ideas, etc. Therefore, make sure that you are evaluating the issues, not the people. Regard the conflict as the “it” factor operating rather than the “he” or “she” factor operating.
  • Stay neutral. It is crucial that you are neutral and take no one’s side; otherwise, you will be viewed as contributing to the problem rather than helping to resolve it.
  • Ask each employee to come up with several optional solutions. The goal is to resolve the conflict in a way that will be acceptable to both parties. Therefore, it is important that each one of them work out his or her own options. By doing this, you will be sending a clear message to your employees that you have confidence in their ability to work things out-that you respect and trust them.
  • Help them to work out a viable solution. Review the various options that the employees have separately come up with, then assist them in jointly finding a workable solution-one they both can live with.
  • Give them feedback. Be sure to give them feedback as to the appropriateness and viability of their solution. Make recommendations and offer guidance where necessary.
  • Have them implement their solution. Communicate your confidence in their solution, have them implemented and give you feedback about the results.

What if your employees cannot come to a resolution of the conflict despite all their efforts? Then it becomes necessary for you to devise a solution that each employee can live with and that will not be counter to organizational goals.

The final word: as a manager, you must not tolerate any decrease in productivity, which may, indeed, occur if employees are unable to resolve their conflicts in timely and constructive ways. Therefore it is vital to recognize where you must step in to help your employees help themselves in resolving their conflict.

Management lessons from ‘30 Rock’s’ Jack Donaghy

I loved the NBC show 30 Rock and was sad to see it end.  I found it funny, entertaining and highly creative.  Over the years, I enjoyed watching Jack Donaghy portry a "real life" Jack Welch.  His character was both clever and manipulating.  It's fun to look back and tryto pull some "words of wisdom" from Jack... careful how you apply this in your real life!

By , via @washingtonpost

Forget the evil machinations of energy magnate C. Montgomery Burns on “The Simpsons” and the scheming of oil baron J.R. Ewing on “Dallas.” They are mere caricatures. The most subtle, vivid portrait of a corporate executive to ever appear on the small screen is nearing the end of his run: John Francis Donaghy — he goes by Jack — on the NBC show “30 Rock.”

For all of Jack Donaghy’s nutty hijinks and pithy one-liners, there is a surprising set of lessons hiding under the surface of the show, which premiered its seventh and final season Thursday night. The simple fact is that Jack, as portrayed by Alec Baldwin, is a superb executive.

When not busy managing a complex love life (Donaghy has dated characters played by Elizabeth Banks and Salma Hayek, and Condoleezza Rice as herself) or the travails of his ever-beleaguered employee Liz Lemon (Tina Fey), Donaghy manages to run the East Coast television and microwave oven division of General Electric with remarkable skill.

He has overcome seemingly thwarted ambition, created new products and mentored younger executives with aplomb. He may lack eloquence. (He once proposed a line for a speech honoring GE’s real-life chief executive: “Jack Welch has such unparalleled management skills they named Welch’s Grape Juice after him, because he squeezes the sweetest juice out of his workers’ mind grapes.”) But he is shrewd, ambitious and has a vision for what the company under his command could be.

Donaghy is a plutocrat, but in a proud American tradition — a self-made plutocrat. He grew up the son of a working-class single mother in Boston, put himself through Princeton on a “handsomeness scholarship” and by working “the day shift at a graveyard and the graveyard shift at a Days Inn,” then made his way to Harvard Business School and GE’s management training program.

He has some mighty impressive mind grapes. Pour a scotch, stand wistfully staring out the window and consider some of Jack Donaghy’s lessons that every manager should take to heart.

Have a career plan, but don’t let it stifle you.

Donaghy had spent his professional career climbing the ranks of General Electric, aspiring to be its chief executive. He was disconsolate when the division he headed was sold to Philadelphia-based Kabletown (a thinly veiled take on Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal), and his longtime mentor, GE chief executive Don Geiss (played by Rip Torn), died.

Suddenly, Donaghy was exiled from a company he had long hoped to lead, his dream seemingly shattered. His ambition to lead GE had been the force driving his ascent up the corporate ladder, and that chance disappeared seemingly overnight.

After some brooding, though, Donaghy redirected his energy to dreaming up new products for Kabletown, learning its corporate culture and climbing a new corporate ladder. As disappointed as he may have been about not becoming CEO of “the General,” and there is nothing wrong with that, the key was channeling that disappointment in productive ways — toward making his mark at a new firm, in this case — rather than just moping.

It’s great to have a career driven by the ambition to reach a particular goal; in Donaghy’s case, that surely served as the motivation for years of hard work. But the point of having a goal is not that one can be absolutely certain of attaining it; rather, it gives you a point on the horizon that ensures a career is heading the right general direction over time.

What Donaghy didn’t do was try to ease his way back into the fold at GE when it was clear his moment had passed. The desire to be its CEO was a force that fueled ambition, not an end in itself.

There is an interesting real-life parallel. When Jack Welch was retiring as the chief of GE, there was a three-way competition to succeed him between Jeffrey Immelt, Bob Nardelli and James McNerney. Immelt got the job, and Nardelli and McNerney quickly moved on: the former to run Home Depot, the latter to Boeing. Neither took their failure to reach a long-standing career goal as an excuse to stop chasing something big.

Innovate whether they like it or not

An old friend who worked at Kabletown explained to Donaghy that the cable business is a piece of cake: With all the money that rolls in from pay-per-view porn, the joke goes, there’s no need to “make” anything.

Donaghy found himself in a corporate culture that had little appreciation for the very work that animated him as an executive: creating innovations, turning them into products and bringing them to the marketplace.

The key to emerging from his professional rut was realizing that innovation can bloom even in places that don’t seem ripe for it. It is a state of mind.

Donaghy becomes something of a guerilla innovator at Kabletown, inventing, among other things, what he called “porn for women,” offering a pay-per-view service with handsome men staring deeply into the screen asking women to talk about their day. A funny joke, yes, but one with a broader lesson. Not every company will be a Google or Apple, turning out never-before-seen products. But in any company, there are opportunities to look at old products in new ways or make customers happier.

The best managers find ways to bring that innovation sensibility to their jobs, regardless of their industry or what the environment around them encourages.

Take mentorship seriously

In the first season of “30 Rock,” Donaghy decided to take Liz Lemon under his wing and mentor her. She resisted, seeing him in those early days as a clueless corporate suit. With time, she would come to understand that having Jack Donaghy as a mentor was no small matter.

He sees a big part of his job as preparing his underlings to go out into the world and achieve success as he has done. It is not entirely selfless; Lemon and his other mentees will surely maintain a loyalty to him that could ease his own corporate ascent. But he goes far beyond the mere obligations of a boss, trying to ensure that his mentees reach their every goal.

When Lemon resists his initial entreaties, Donaghy presents her with his handiwork: Howard Jorgensen, a vice president of locomotives at GE who — before he met Jack — “dressed poorly, had bad posture, walked around with lettuce in my hair,” as he says. When Donaghy was done, Jorgensen was “earning seven figures and married to a swell Filipino gal.”

One fault in Donaghy’s management style is that he seems to view taking someone on as a binary event: Someone is either worthy of extraordinary time and effort or none at all. When his new wife, Avery Jessup (played by Elizabeth Banks), is uncomfortable about his close relationship with Lemon, he “tries out” other potential mentees, only to find them all wanting.

Of course, no manager can insinuate himself deeply into the lives of all his or her employees (and Donaghy’s relationship with Lemon often does veer toward being a little too close, though not in a romantic way). But mentorship doesn’t need to be the all-or-nothing enterprise that it seems to be for Donaghy, in which there are some worthy of his overwhelming efforts and everyone else is not. There is plenty of room for helping junior colleagues advance in small ways as well as large, and doing so can help assure an even larger network of allies.

But still, it is clear that part of Donaghy’s success comes not just from his own achievements, but in Liz Lemon’s and Howard Jorgensen’s.

Tolerate idiosyncracy

As the executive in charge of a television network, Donaghy oversees a lot of colorful people. The stars of the fictional NBC show “TGS,” Tracy Jordan (played by Tracy Morgan) and Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski), are self-absorbed, difficult and often unreliable. Donaghy sees them as nothing like himself, a buttoned-up aficionado of power ties and good scotch.

But they are the talents at the core of a TV show that is part of Donaghy’s empire. And to hold onto those first-rate talents, he tolerates the frustrations of working with people whose aesthetic sensibilities and work habits are very different from his own. He assesses their talent, and then adjusts his management style to get the most out of them.

Sometimes that means simply tolerating late arrivals or people storming into his office with odd demands. At other times, he takes a deeper personal role in resolving problems that are keeping his charges from doing their best work.

He went particularly above and beyond in the second season. The conceit is this: Tracy Jordan was stirring up trouble because of unresolved issues with his absent father. Donaghy helps him get through the frustrations during a role-playing therapy session in which he portrays Jordan’s father, a droopy-lipped Campbell Soup factory employee from funky North Philly. The (quite politically incorrect) result is not just among the funniest sitcom scenes of all time. It is also a manager doing whatever it takes to make one of his most talented employees more productive, even at no small cost in terms of personal dignity (and, if it were real life, some unpleasant consequences from the HR department).

Personal touches matter

Donaghy is highly attuned to the personal lives of his employees and what makes them tick. He is a superb giver of gifts, viewing it as the “purest expression of friendship” and invariably selecting uniquely appropriate presents. He may be a coldhearted corporate tactician at times, but he also cares deeply about his people, and does the little things to let them know it.

This, more than any other character trait, appears to be based on Jack Welch, the GE chief executive from 1981 to 2004.

“Do you know why Jack Welch is the greatest leader since the pharaohs?” Donaghy asked in the first “30 Rock” season. “Because he didn’t only involve himself in our work lives, but our personal lives as well. He introduced us to the finest booze, the most restrictive country clubs. He gave us the names of the most discreet private investigators to spy on our ex-wives. He held our hands during our triumphs and our Senate hearings.”

The real Jack Welch may not favor restrictive country clubs or spying on ex-wives, but he has a reputation for taking intense interest in the lives of his underlings. For example, in an interview with BusinessWeek, Bob Nardelli told of Welch once making him work through a holiday weekend that he had been supposed to spend with his wife — and then sending a case of Dom Perignon and an apology note saying, “I was thinking more of myself than you and Sue. Have a toast on me.”

Donaghy practices the same philosophy. He understands that you can get more out of an employee when they know you will fight for them when the chips are down and help them emerge from personal crises or other challenges in life.

Learn from everyone around you

For all his elitism, Donaghy has often displayed an ability to learn lessons from those around him. He has an especially savvy ability to learn lessons and adapt strategies used by people who might seem to have little to offer to an accomplished businessperson.

Never was that more true than in Season 6, when he found himself being outnegotiated by his baby daughter’s night nurse, Sherry. She refused to accept a pay cut when her hours were reduced, negotiating by sitting quietly and eating an orange while Jack awkwardly acquiesced to her demands. He was, as he put it, “reamed by a woman in Winnie the Pooh hospital pants.”

Donaghy, he told Lemon later, violated every rule of negotiation. “I spoke first. I smiled. I negotiated with myself. If I had done that during a mock negotiation in business school, Professor Woodmer would have spanked me in front of the whole class. Bare bottom.”

But a key negotiation over licensing fees between the hapless NBC and its parent company, Kabletown, was shaking Donaghy’s confidence until he learned the crucial lesson that Sherry had taught. When somebody’s helpless baby is in the mix, the usual negotiating strategies don’t apply. And NBC was Kabletown’s baby. By negotiating like Sherry, he prevailed.

Of course, if he had been blind to her effectiveness and the lessons it offered, he might not have found himself on the cover of that month’s “Meetings” magazine.


Have a career plan, but don’t let it stifle you.

Innovate whether they like it or not.

Take mentorship seriously.

Learn from everyone around you.

Tolerate idiosyncracy.

Personal touches matter.


10 Leadership Practices to Stop Today


Stop Caring How Many Hours Your Employees Work


Bring your company into the 21st century, where work is about goals accomplished, not hours clocked. Your employees will thank you.

breaking a clock

The traditional 9-to-5 workweek is just that: traditional, a vestige of a different era when the number of hours an employee clocked on a production line was an easy way to measure productivity. The nature of work has changed, but too many businesses still automatically adopt a rigid schedule without considering its effects on employee productivity and happiness. 

Enforcing strict working hours erodes employer-employee trust. Telling them whenthey must complete their work is a fast way to make them feel less autonomous. And nothing kills productivity faster than an atmosphere in which employees feel forced to work. They should want to complete their work--for the good of the company and because they like what they do, not because they feel obligated or forced. 

The fact is, giving employees full freedom to come in and leave when they want may increase their output and productivity. 

Here are four reasons why you should drop set working hours: 

1. It diminishes productivity.

When employees are forced to be at work within specific time parameters, their success is tied to when they come in and leave the office--not what goals have been met. Just because an employee is present doesn’t mean he's actually being productive. Let's face it: Simply filling the requirement of sitting in a chair for eight (or more) hours is not exactly motivating.

2. It doesn't foster trust.

Employees should have full autonomy to meet their goals however they want--put the onus on them to determine the best process. That way, they’re more likely to own their work and be passionate about being the best they can be. 

3. It's distracting.

Do most employees' projects and tasks consistently fit within a rigid, 9-to-5 schedule? Probably not. So why do you want them thinking about how many hours they clock instead of meeting their goals? Employees can and should determine how long they must be at the office to get something done. After all, during a big project you don't want someone walking out the door when the clock strikes 5 simply because she's met her time quota for the day. 

4. It's bad for teamwork.

Working in a team can make a huge difference when it comes to productivity. But when individual team members are bound by set hours, you exacerbate potential issues over who's pulling their weight. Let your employees focus on meeting team goals and collaborating to make it happen--whether that means they all work together in the office during the same hours or whether they work in chunks of time here and there. They know how to get their work done.

Getting rid of employee hours can require a culture change in your company, but you’ll reap the benefits of increased flexibility and autonomy. Keeping employees happy and productive starts with you showing them trust--and enforcing hours shows exactly the opposite.

Want Success? Love to Sell


Adopt the one characteristic that unites all highly successful people: they love to sell.



The most successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople share a single, essential characteristic: they're good at selling. No idea, expertise, product or service ever became successful without somebody selling it to investors, peers, employees and customers.

I can, and have, published hundreds of posts explaining how to improve your ability to sell, but up until now, I've held back a secret. It's a secret so powerful and so essential that it will seem painfully obvious when I reveal it in this post.

The Big Secret of Success

The secret is this: the way to become a great salesperson (and therefore successful in whatever you do) is to enjoy selling.

Take Steve Jobs. By all accounts, Jobs was often miserable and frustrated when working with other people and creating new products. But on the stage, selling those new products to the waiting world... the joy in his face was marvelous to behold.

I've seen the same phenomenon in many industries. The CEOs who are the most successful are those who get a bigger kick from meeting with customers than from handling day-to-day operations.

The secret certainly holds true in sales and marketing. I can tell within seconds of meeting a salesperson or a marketer whether or not they love their job. And, not surprisingly, I've watched the ones who do love selling make the most money.

If you truly want to be successful at whatever you do, you should now be asking yourself: "How can I learn to really love part of my job that involves selling what I have to offer?" If that's what you want to know, read on.

How to Love Selling

In my experience, people who truly love selling see themselves in service to a higher purpose. For CEOs like Steve Jobs, that higher purpose is "changing the world," which was the tone of every sales pitch Jobs ever gave.

That idea--"change the world--is deeper than it seems at first glance. The reason successful people want to "change the world" is that they want to make it a better place, where people are happier, safer and where there's less pain and suffering.

However, it's impossible to change the world if nobody knows or understand what you're selling. Selling, in other words, is the vehicle through which you change the world.  Without selling, every idea falls on dry and barren ground.

Selling, therefore, is nothing more nor less than a way to be of service to others and that's where the enjoyment comes in. When you're selling, you're creating a better world for yourself and for others. How can you not enjoy that?

This concept runs contrary to the popular notion of the slick salesperson who cares only about making the deal. Nevertheless, it's the way that truly successful people feel when they're selling something they believe in.

The Bliss of Selling

This true nature of selling and how to enjoy it was recently made clear to me when I reconnected with an old friend, a guy whom I consider to be among the most successful people I've ever met.

His name is David Rotman, and when I originally met him, he was a "mover and shaker" in Hollywood, the executive producer of the classic fantasy movie Dragonheartand co-producer of the action film Cliffhanger, among other projects.

Make no mistake about it, producing movies is a sales job par excellence, which involves getting multiple people to buy into your vision of what's possible and then keeping them motivated to make that vision a reality.

Since then David has enjoyed success in other areas, like writing and selling screenplays, and promoting special events like the Agape Lovefest. He recent left Hollywood to help out at his family business, one of the largest furniture stores in the world: the famous Rotmans in Worcester, MA.

Talking to David is like taking a bath in positive energy. When he talks about selling (in all the many forms that he's been successful at it), he uses the word "BLISS" which he defines as an acronym: "Beaming Love In Sacred Service."

Right now, David is applying that concept to selling furniture while he learns the business from the bottom up, but I believe that the concept of BLISS has been the core of the many successes that he's had in his life.

How to Make it Real

Here's how to create, foster and expand the love of selling that will, in turn, help achieve success:

1. Have a Mental Touchstone

Decide why you do what you do and how it helps people and then use that deeper understanding as a way to keep yourself on track. In David's case, it's the concept of BLISS. Whenever he's dealing with people, he internally reviews his motivations and actions to make certain that they're coming from that core idea.

2. Focus on Real People

Rather than abstract "markets" or "customer bases," think about real people who you're really helping. David, for instance, takes photographs of himself with other people he meets, famous and not famous alike. One wall of his office in Hollywood was covered with these photos, a constant reminder of the emotional connections that he'd made.

3. Learn the Craft of Selling

It's easier to love doing something if you're good at it, so the time and energy that you put into learning how to sell, is time and energy that will help you love selling. The idea is to create a self-reinforcing system where your ability and your love for the craft proceed in lockstep and apace.

4. Consider Connecting with David

David is creating a network of people who believe that business in general and selling in particular is meant to be a blissful experience. If you're interested, consider connecting with him via his LinkedIn profile.


Are You Involved in Every Decision at Your Company?


Does every problem still come across your desk? Are you spending too much time in the weeds and not enough thinking about the big picture? Are you feeling burned out? For many business owners I know, the answers to these questions are a resounding “yes.”

One of the best ways I know to create value in a business is for the owner to become operationally irrelevant. That doesn’t mean leaving the business. It means changing your relationship to your business. Instead of being involved in every decision, you build a team and find a way to trust your senior employees to take care of their individual areas of responsibility.

I use the term passive owner to describe owners who have removed themselves from the day-to-day operation. Instead of solving problems all day, they have moved on to working on strategic issues. You know a business has a passive owner when it can run for weeks and or even months without the direct intervention of the owner, because there are managers in the company who are competent and have been given the authority and responsibility to keep things running smoothly. Here’s a fun way to think about it: Several years ago, Norm Brodsky wrote a column for Inc. magazine in which he argued that the more vacation time he took, the more he increased the value of his company.

Passive ownership is hard to achieve. At first, we don’t believe it’s possible. If we get to the point where do believe it’s possible, we often have to change not only our behavior but the culture of the company. Worse, we’re busy — so busy in fact, that we often don’t have time to stop and take a look around. We’re forced to deal with emergency after emergency after emergency. Before we know it, another day has passed and we’re still in the same place.

To take the first step toward passive ownership, we have to be able to get past living as if everything is a crisis. When we’re constantly in crisis mode, everything is late and we’re always under tremendous pressure. At least, that’s how it was for me. I thought I had to be involved in every decision. I lived as if everything was an emergency. I drove my staff crazy and, frankly, my company wasn’t a very satisfying place to be — neither for my employees nor for me.

In the early ’80s I ran across a book by Stephen Covey called “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” The book talks about four stages that people occupy. They are:

  1. Urgent and important (where I was living).
  2. Important, but not urgent (where I needed to be).
  3. Not important, but urgent (I delegated, but not effectively. The project seemed to always land back on my desk).
  4. Not important and not urgent (where I hid behind useless activities and was completely unproductive).

I realized that I would have to move out of stages 1 and 3 and spend more time in stage 2 if I were ever going to be successful. It wasn’t easy, but I found one thing that I thought was a crisis and successfully delegated it to someone else. Then, I did it again. Over the course of a couple of years, I managed to get some time to work on important but not urgent activities. And that’s when life started to change.

Passive ownership requires the owner to build a team of effective managers, to have a reporting system that shares critical company information and to have systems in place that let front-line employees know what to do and how to act. This might sound easy, but it often takes several years of taking small steps before you even get close passive ownership.

For my company, the result was that we went from providing inconsistent service to being tactically excellent. We developed systems, and we stopped acting as if everything was a crisis. We had systems in place to keep crises from happening in the first place but could plan for things that were likely to go wrong.

Building trust between my managers and me was a real challenge. My issue was that I had a very difficult time understanding what was happening when one of my managers made a mistake. At some level, I didn’t fully understand that it wasn’t on purpose. This is where I ran into W. Edwards Deming and his books on quality management. One of his rules was that you don’t blame the person — you blame the system. This was a really difficult rule for me to embrace. But as we put more and better systems in place, the mistakes got smaller and more manageable. This took time and the willingness to change.

There’s a reason a lot of owners have a habit of micromanaging. In the early years, if I hadn’t been obsessive about being involved in every aspect of the business, the business might well have failed. It was only as the business became more successful that I had the option of learning to back off. But I know I waited longer than I should have.

Take a moment and ask yourself whether you are constantly feeling the pressure. If you answered yes to the questions at the beginning of this post, you might want to think about ways to make at least some of these issues go away.

Josh Patrick is a founder and Principal at Stage 2 Planning Partners where he works with private business owners on wealth management issues.

Transformational Leaders Coach for Better Employee Performance

Business leaders can have many titles. But excelling at one role is a highly-effective way to bring about better performance in your employees: the role of a coach.

Coaching is about bringing a person from where they are to where they want to be; it is about transformation. Transformational leadership is a specific type of leadership that is becoming more popular today.

Transformational leaders create a lasting, positive impression on people and improve the companies they work for. And employees are more satisfied and productive under them. What leaders do is to work with employees to improve specific work behaviors and skills, and in the process, they become better themselves.

Are you a leader who wants to see better results from those you lead? What are some things you should do? Follow these coaching tips that have helped many of the leaders I work with.

10 techniques to coach employees to improved performance

  1. Foster an ongoing dialogue between yourself and the employee(s). You want to be in touch with the person or people you are coaching. The dialogue must be two-way and continuous.
  2. Collaborate with the person you are coaching. Work together to identify problem areas, to set standards and to develop a performance improvement plan.
  3. Set up and follow a plan with the person or team you are coaching. Have a plan of action about what specifically needs to improve or change.
  4. Share resources with them to help them become more successful in their work. Send them emails, or articles, you think they might find useful. Give them books and talk about what they think about what you share with them.
  5. Celebrate success. Recognition is the best motivator and will show the employee that they are valued and doing something right. Find the person’s strengths and highlight them.
  6. Acknowledge problems and concerns. Talk with employees about any problems or concerns you, or they, may have.
  7. Listen actively. Try to be attentive, summarize their thoughts and give your feedback to what employees have to say.
  8. Improve your questioning skills. Good coaches ask open-ended and non-threatening questions. The better the question, the higher likelihood of a great answer.
  9. Try to be objective and nonjudgmental. You want them to be comfortable and honest with you. Focus on behaviors and the impact they have, not the personality.
  10. Get people to think through their actions. Getting people to think things through can bring about personal insight and will help you understand them better.

Practice a behavioral approach to coaching

In his book, “Coaching for Improved Work Performance”, Ferdinand Fournies explains that focusing on an employee’s’ behavior is the key to correcting and improving performance. He says that leaders should focus on the behavior they want and reinforce that, rather than punishing the behavior they don’t want.

He also explains that telling someone something is not enough. A person must say AND do something that will make the other person receive their message. Asking the person questions is a way to do this.

He also gives a few more ways for leaders to improve the behaviors of their employees:

  • Let employees know what they are supposed to do.
  • Follow up with employees to maintain proper performance.
  • Create a feedback system.
  • Increase the amount of verbal reinforcement.

And finally…

Coaching is often a one-on-one process, but leaders can also set an example and coach an entire team. To do this, leaders must be available to everyone. They often come in the morning and talk to each employee and try to become a part of their group, rather than simply being someone who leads from the corner office. This kind of leadership is hard work, but the benefits are huge.

10 Ways to Create and Open Culture

Three years ago, Grey London really needed to change. The industry had changed, the media landscape had changed and Grey remained a relatively successful (in financial terms at least), safe, but dull London outpost of a global network. Not a great, or ultimately sustainable, place to be if you’re in a creative industry.

Grey had tried to change before. The business wasn’t in denial, but it just seemed like the "uncrackable" problem. This time, we did it differently. Our strategy for change was to change our culture. We called this Open. It is both an expression of a culture and how we believe today’s people-based businesses should work in order to survive, evolve and thrive. It is a philosophy of collective creativity and collective responsibility. It encourages increased collaboration between departments, the agency and its clients. Any business can be Open; what follows is a brief description of how we did it, the lessons learned and the results we’re achieving.

As a team, we have a shared dissatisfaction for how most agencies choose to work. Despite selling creativity, many behave in the exact opposite way and the most conservative department is often the creative department. We believe that most "people" businesses are actually "talent" businesses and conventional pyramidal structures squash and stifle this talent. This makes them slower, less innovative and ultimately frustrating places to work. In 2009, we set about turning this pyramid upside down, re-framing the role of management as coaches and cultural guardians.

To achieve actual change rather than paper change we needed three things: vision, courage and urgency, with the greatest focus on the latter--because talking about change rather than doing it is where most programs come unstuck. We set metrics, a timeline, identified our key stakeholders (primarily in our case staff and clients) and published targets for all to see. It was scary, because metrics and transparency set targets that demonstrate success, but can also highlight failure.

Focusing on actions ahead of words and documents, we held focus groups internally, removed all offices, official processes--even sacrosanct "sign-offs"--and department boundaries, creating a place that allowed people to be the best they could be. We believed that if we did this, breaking the traditional parent/child relationship that exists in most businesses, we would achieve radical change.And we have. Over the past three years we have transformed our creative output, winning awards around the world, and doubling in size (revenue). Crucially, our staff and client satisfaction scores have also skyrocketed. 

Yet the job is not complete. Open positively affects our business on a daily basis, and with the desire to change as strong as ever, continues to drive us forward.

Here, based on our experience, are 10 ways to become Open.


All businesses need to change. This is as true of a small, fast-paced creative business as it is of a global corporate behemoth. The problem is, despite the considerable money thrown at them and the legions of paper theories written about them, most change programs fail.

Strategy is, in fact, the easy bit. Paying for it hurts, but the pain passes. Doing it gets very hard indeed. You need to be prepared for the long road ahead. Only a dramatic shift in culture can yield the best results.


Let’s face it, the ideal moment to change your business--when you’ve got a clear diary, all your clients are happy and there are no major projects in the pipeline--will never present itself. So stop waiting for the right time, just get on with it.

Image: Flickr user Francisco Delatorre


The operative word here is team. You need to put together a genuine and focused group at the top of the business to make change happen. A team who invests effort in collective success and effort in making the team itself work effectively.


Fundamentally, culture is the behavior of management. Too often, people accept change needs to happen, but believe it’s someone else that needs to behave differently to make it a reality. What you do as a manager, not what you say, is what really counts. Only your actions and leading by example will bring about a change in the way your whole organization behaves.


The biggest barrier to change is mobilizing and energizing your workforce, which is likely to be highly skeptical. Your people need to be invited to shape the future of the business, not manipulated to satisfy the needs of management.

At Grey London we invited everyone to a series of day-long workshops to engage staff in developing our new vision and values. The management team didn’t define Open, the talent did. In an Open culture, the role of management is to create a culture that allows every individual to be the best they can be and then focus on removing obstacles and barriers that obstruct this ambition (of which inevitably there are many).

Image: Flickr user Grant Hutchinson


Culture is like concrete, which over time sets into a certain mold. An effective change program therefore needs a degree of physicality. Too much so-called change stays on PowerPoint. To really shake things up, you’ve got to take a sledgehammer to that concrete, but be mindful that, in time, the new way of doing things will also become too entrenched. You need to keep smashing and resetting to keep your culture vibrant and your business energized.

Fundamental to the success of Open is the breaking of barriers, physical or otherwise. So the first big step is tearing down walls: no offices (for anybody) and nobody sitting in departments. Then change your processes to involve all stakeholders throughout a project so everyone not only understands the problem, but takes pride and ownership in delivering the best answer.

Not all change has to be this radical, however. You can achieve a large amount by seemingly symbolic acts. Seen by everyone and felt immediately, symbolic acts can have disproportionate influence.


Open turns the traditional organizational hierarchy upside down, recasting management as mentors. Ultimately, its success lies in the emphasis on the power of the individual and their teams to do the right thing, their way. It allows ambitious entrepreneurs to thrive and be the best they can be.

If you sit in an organization where the seventh floor doesn’t know what the first floor thinks, you can’t change a company’s culture. To combat this kind of malaise, you need to change people’s emotional contract with the organization--we went as far as giving junior executives a place on the board through the creation of "Open Chairs."

You also need tangible demonstrations of trust and devolution of responsibility. For Grey London, the most totemic act was the removal of "sign-offs." For us, sign-offs became a short hand for everything that we believed was wrong about traditional agency ways of working. Sign-offs are about control, but unfortunately, also disempower and imply that only the creative director’s point of view matters. This leads to a slow, dependent culture, frustrated clients and, most importantly of all, less good work.

Open belongs to everyone. It involves everyone. Even clients. Ideas can come from anywhere and anyone, so allow people to adapt the approach as they see fit and launch their own initiatives to promote a culture of collaboration. You’ll find leaders emerge at all levels.

Image: Flickr user Brian Duffy


Set ambitious metrics for success and be transparent about what they are. Encourage open and honest feedback and share all the results with everyone. Open is about decisions, action and continuous change. Coupled with ambitious targets and full disclosure on progress, comes the very real possibility of failure. If you’ve fully embraced Open, you will make the wrong decisions from time to time, but as long as you continue to act and make more good decisions than bad ones, your business will move forward fast. Remember, change isn’t linear--it’s lumpy.

At Grey London, implementing a "70% right" approach has served us very well. As General Schwarzkopf once said, “If you’ve waited until you’re more than 70% certain, then you’ve waited too long.”


Too often, change consists of one-off initiatives that are forgotten by employees and abandoned by management. You need to nurture continual change and ongoing collaboration through workshops, training, social events and company-wide challenges.

We lie awake at night worrying "what next?" rather than, "did that work?"


Identify your stakeholders and make sure they see the result of your change program--not just being different, but being better. Not better in the abstract or in a corporate sense, but better for them as individuals.

This applies to all stakeholders and you need to be able to articulate exactly how. From the personal association with a winning team, the potential career development if you’re the client who commissions a breakthrough piece of creative, the rewards that come with working for a successful company, and yes, even just coming to a nice place to work.

Chris Hirst is CEO of Grey London.


What to Do With a Workplace Whiner


It's one of the diciest challenges of office politics, one that invades the cubicle farm and executive suite alike: How to deal with workplace whiners.

While it's often best to walk away, that can be difficult in today's team-based workplace, where many people work closely in groups.


Trying to stay neutral by just listening and nodding can also backfire, says Dana Brownlee, founder of Professionalism Matters, a corporate-training firm in Atlanta. "Before you know it, there's another version of the story circulating, saying you were the one saying something negative about the VP. And they're talking about you over by the Coke machine."

And it can be tough to object without seeming self-righteous. "If you approach someone about their complaining, they may take it in a completely wrong way, and then you've alienated them," says Jon Gordon, an author, consultant and founder of a Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., training firm. It's better to try to bond with co-workers, while setting an example by not griping yourself, he says.

When Kris Whitehead joined a new employer several years ago, his colleagues' frequent work complaints "had a direct impact on my ability to sell," says the Nashua, N.H., salesman. With the economy in a slump, "I had the same secret fears" of failure being voiced by co-workers, he says. Staying upbeat "was an extremely arduous task."

But when he suggested to colleagues that they focus instead on solutions,"nobody wanted to listen," he says. Plus, "people started talking about me at the water cooler."

Mr. Whitehead started reading books on personal development and worked on bonding with colleagues. As he posted gains in sales, co-workers warmed up and his boss recently asked him to help train new hires. "People seem to listen better when you produce," Mr. Whitehead says.


But research shows productivity can be damaged by toiling alongside a chronic complainer. Exposure to nonstop negativity can disrupt learning, memory, attention and judgment, says Robert Sapolsky, a prominent author and professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University. The brain, he says, can only handle so many stimuli at once before it begins losing ability to concentrate or remember—especially if that steady stream of negativity sparks distressing emotions.

Complainers who are highly emotional, or who target a problem that also makes the listener feel wronged, can especially darken a co-worker's mood, Dr. Sapolsky says.

Whining has become so common that many people don't even realize they're doing it. Benjamin Ballard, an account manager for PaceButler, an Oklahoma City company that recycles cellphones, says he used to moan at work about his migraines. But "I'd make jokes about it and thought that somehow made it positive," says Mr. Ballard.

5 Tips to Fight Off Complainers

  • Change the subject, by asking the complainer what's going well.
  • If you're stuck listening to a grouser, retreat mentally and imagine yourself in a peaceful setting you enjoy.
  • Ask the complainer what he or she intends to do about the problem.
  • Move your desk or workstation farther from incessant grumblers.
  • In meetings, allot a specific, limited amount of time for coworkers to air their complaints in a constructive context.

PaceButler CEO Tom Pace made such grousing a front-and-center issue last December by offering cash rewards to any of his 70 employees who could refrain from complaints or gossip for at least seven days. Participants in the challenge monitor themselves and each other, wearing rubber wrist bracelets that they move to the other arm when they slip. Workers who say they have gone a week without such toxic talk are eligible to enter a monthly $500 drawing.

For his part, Mr. Ballard stopped griping and took action to stop the headaches by eating better, he says. "I don't get headaches anymore." Spending less time talking about them, he figures, has helped.

His colleague Debbie Gutierrez, an agent coordinator, says the program has made everyone stop and think before they talk. "You can see growth in people," she says. And throughout the office, Mr. Pace says, "there are more high-fives, more laughter and more production."

Still, in most companies, it's getting harder to avoid the grumblers. Some 18% of U.S. employees are "actively disengaged," negative and likely to complain about their employers, according to an annual Gallup poll of 31,265 employees. That negativity can spread "kind of like a cancer," says Jim Harter, Gallup's chief scientist for workplace management and well-being.

Work groups with a high rate of negativity tend to have lower productivity and higher rates of absenteeism and quality defects, the Gallup research shows. If an opportunity arises to invest extra effort to help the company, these workers are likely to pass it up, Dr. Harter says.

[image]John S. Dykes

Do Like the NFL Quarterbacks Do: To deflect negative energy, imagine an invisible shield of positive energy descends from the sky like a glass cloak to lightly cover your whole body, says author Trevor Blake.

But there are ways to cope with complainers. When people beef about the boss or someone else, author and speaker Will Bowen suggests deflecting the gripes by saying, "It sounds like you and he have something to talk about." Other people bellyache just to get attention. He suggests giving the complainer a different kind of attention by asking, ' "What's going well for you?" They'll look at you like you're crazy at first,' but persist and "the person will either switch topics or stop talking to you. Either way, you don't have to listen to them any more," says Mr. Bowen, Kansas City, Mo., founder of a nonprofit group, A Complaint Free World.

Of course, "there has to be some healthy conflict," says Mr. Gordon, the author and consultant. When work teams get together, the ratio of positive interactions, such as support and encouragement, to negative interactions, such as disapproval and criticism, should be about 3-to-1 or higher in order to ensure top performance, based on research by Barbara Fredrickson, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and others.

And some chronic complainers expose real problems. Joan Curto griped almost constantly years ago about the heavy travel required by her job as a national accounts manager for a drug company, says her former boss, Trevor Blake. "She complained about everything: The company car wasn't big enough, the bonuses weren't good enough," says Mr. Blake, a Seattle-based entrepreneur and author. "I pushed back, asking, 'What are you going to do about it? Come to me with a solution.' "

At first, Ms. Curto says, she was irritated. She was traveling four to five days a week trying to cover a huge 600-hospital sales territory and was seldom home with her family. But she soon figured out what Mr. Blake calls "a brilliant plan" to limit face-to-face visits to customers with the highest sales potential, and to hire a pharmacist to contact the rest.

The result: Sales went up, and Ms. Curto, now a sales manager for a different, Chicago-based company, got to stay home more often with her family.





5 Rules For Making Your Vision Stick


A corporate mission statement isn't merely words to slap on a coffee mug or on the wall of your reception area. It should guide decision-making on every level--so learn to communicate it effectively.

In the mid-1990s, I was working with some leaders from Iams, the premium pet food company. Its mission: “Improving the well-being of dogs and cats.”

Over a beer after the workshop finished, some of the executives were telling work stories when the subject turned to then-CEO Clay Mathile. As the legend goes, he was approached by one of the leading business magazines of the day to be the subject for the cover story--and turned it down.

Most business leaders would jump at that opportunity. When asked why he didn’t accept, Mathile is rumored to have said, “I just can’t see how that would improve the lives of dogs and cats.”

I love that story. It’s a great example of leading by example and using the organization’s mission and vision to make decisions.

If you spend a lot of time in company headquarters like I do, you will often see organizations’ visions, missions and values written down somewhere, often in the main lobby for you to ponder as you go through the “sign in here, wear this nametag, your host will be right down” process. Other likely spots: the employee cafeteria, coffee mugs, and the corporate website.
Yet, senior executives are often blind to the reality that these guiding principles should play--and how well understood they are outside of the executive suite. If you asked the average employee who passes through the lobby, eats in the cafeteria, or drinks form the mug, my guess is that they might not even know the mission, vision, and values, much less how to use them to inform their work.

The fact is, even the greatest mission and vision statements fall flat unless they are shared effectively. Solid research finds that people see you as a better leader if you are able to communicate your organization’s vision effectively.

study published in Claremont McKenna College’s Leadership Review shows that when leaders discuss their organizations’ vision in a specific way, not only is the vision better understood, the leaders are also seen as being more effective in general.

So what’s the practical lesson in that research for you?

Simply put, if you’re a leader, you need to exhibit the following five qualities in communicating your vision: 

  1. Inspiration: The way someone discusses the organization’s vision can be just as important as the content. Eye contact, facial expressions, hand gestures, tone of voice, and enthusiasm all contribute to the increased impact of the message. In this short interview, Sal Kahn, founder of Kahn Academy, describes his vision in a casual, upbeat, almost infectious way.
  2. Challenge: While simple works, easy does not. An element of challenge is critical. TheLeadership Review study showed that vision discussions that were ambitious and difficult were actually perceived as a plus by employees. If you talk about your vision as fiercely maintaining the status quo, you’re not being effective. In 2005, when he was president of Walgreens., Jeff Rein told me about their vision for growth. Their research showed that most of us use whatever pharmacy is four miles or less from our home or work. His vision was to have a Walgreens store within four miles of most people’s offices or homes. Since then, the company has gone from 5,000 stores to 7,900.
  3. Clarity: Making a vision easily understood is critical. Drop the buzzwords and corporate speak. Use terms that are easily understood, unambiguous, and as simple as possible. There are a lot of clear mission statements out there, but my favorite was used by Nike in the 1960s: "Crush Adidas." The results from my own unscientific research study in which I counted the number of photos of athletes wearing Nike and Adidas shoes in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated: Nike 64, Adidas 8.
  4. Task–specific: At any level in the organization, the challenge for employees is to try to convert the vision into their day job. By mentioning specific tasks, actions, and behaviors that bring the vision to life, leaders can help employees convert the concept into practice. Jeffery Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, in their Harvard Business Review article called "The Knowing Doing Gap," suggest that organizations use the act of creating and discussing mission/vision statements as one of the most common substitutes for actually taking action. The trick is to create a solid vision statement that is easily translatable by everyone in the organization into actions on their day-to-day job.
  5. Inclusion: Certain key words registered as more positive in the Leadership Review study. Inclusive language such as “we,” “us,” and “our,” (instead of “they”) tended to unify people to the vision. Leaders scored higher when they stated how they were personally living out the vision. Etweda "Sugars" Cooper, mayor of Edina, Liberia, describes her vision for the small town's future in the wake of 14 years of civil war in a way that embraces everyone involved.


In 2004, by which time Iams had been purchased by Procter & Gamble, another Iams employee jumped at the chance for her cover shot. Euka, a golden retriever whose job as Vice President of Canine Communications was to hang out at headquarters to greet guests and represent IAMS at corporate events, posed with Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley forFortune--an outstanding example, by the way, of inclusion.

--Author Craig Chappelow, who specializes in 360-degree feedback and the development of effective senior executive teams, is a portfolio manager at the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of leadership education and research.

Decisions, decisions...

decisionsOver the past couple of weeks, I’ve given a great deal of thought to an article I read in The New York Times by John Tierney called, Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? The article comes from a larger body of work which Tierney co-authored with Roy Baumeister – a book titled, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.    Baumeister notes, “Even the wisest people won’t make good choices when they are not rested and their glucose is low.  That’s why the truly wise don’t restructure the company at 4:00 p.m.  They don’t make major commitments during the cocktail hour.  And if a decision must be made late in the day, they know not to do it on an empty stomach.  The best decision makers are the ones who know when not to trust themselves.”

The concept of decision fatigue takes many forms, whether it’s understanding the best time of day to make decisions, knowing when are least likely to accept tradeoffs, or connecting our eating habits to our personal willpower.

For example, Tierney explains, “…even people with phenomenally strong willpower in the rest of their lives can have a hard time losing weight.  They start out the day with virtuous intentions, resisting croissants at breakfast and dessert at lunch, but each act of resistance further lowers their willpower.  As their willpower weakens later in the day, they need to replenish it.  But to resupply that energy, they need to give their body glucose.  They’re trapped in a nutritional catch-22.  In order not to eat, a dieter needs willpower.  In order to have willpower, a dieter needs to eat.”

Since reading the article, I haven’t spent time contemplating the challenges, so much as thinking about how, once empowered with this information, we can better understand and modify our behavior.  How can we make adjustments that will help us make better decisions and remain disciplined, both personally and professionally?  How can we combat decision fatigue most effectively?

To use the diet example, we know that skipping breakfast and eating a small lunch is likely to catch up to us by the end of the day.  It’s probably best to modify our eating habits so we can fuel our willpower as we’re trying to lose weight.  The many findings from this article, combined with some honest reflection about our daily routines, may be extremely helpful to learning more about ourselves as leaders and as people.

So do you make better decisions in the morning or in the afternoon?  Under what circumstances do you believe you negotiate best?  At what part of the day are you a more effective listener?  Or a better writer?    I invite you to read the article and share your thoughts about when you trust yourself, when you don’t and, most importantly, what you try to do about it!


5 Reasons Peer Advisory Groups Can Work For CEOs

via @ vistage by Leo Bottary

In my last post, 5 Reasons Peer Advisory Groups Work, I talked about the amazing benefits shared by organizations and employees when peers work together.  The thing is, peer groups aren’t just for employees; they work really well for CEOs also.  Imagine for a moment being the CEO.  It’s your responsibility to make good decisions that are best for the company as a whole.  While you may have a terrific senior management team and a highly engaged board of directors, the people giving you advice also have a personal stake in the outcome.   As a CEO, I’m not suggesting you don’t listen to your senior people or your board, who are in most cases (hopefully) sincerely offering their best input and counsel, but it begs this question:  Would a CEO also benefit from being asked tough questions and receiving counsel from fellow CEOs, who have no personal vested interest in the outcome?  As you may have guessed, Vistage member CEOs have been answering yes to this question since 1957.  Here are five benefits (among others of course), a CEO will realize by regularly engaging with a group of his/her peers:

1) Empathy – If you’ve never been a CEO, it’s nearly impossible to put yourself in a CEO’s shoes.  It’s difficult for most of us, regardless of how much we care or how objective we believe we are in offering counsel to our CEOs, to imagine what that’s really like.   Fellow CEOs aren’t looking through the lens of marketing, finance, or HR, they’re looking at the whole picture because it’s what they do every day.  The empathy that one CEO shares with another is a priceless benefit of the CEO peer advisory experience.  Its impact is not only felt professionally, but personally as well.

2) Objectivity – An employee or board member, regardless of their espoused objectivity and true sincerity, has a personal stake in the outcome.  Fellow CEOs from non-competing businesses are not burdened with that extra layer of consideration.   They can ask the hard questions without regard for sacred cows, personal relationships or other organizational/industry blinders.   It’s an eye opening experience for many CEOs when peers looks at a specific challenge through a completely impartial lens.

3) Shared Challenges – While the CEOs in the peer group may serve entirely different types of customers in widely varying industries, they share common challenges regarding employees, growth, profitability, executive development, technology, and uncertainty, just to name a few.  The more they talk, the more they realize how much they have in common and how much they can learn from on another.

4) Learning – While they have shared challenges, the myriad industries they represent set the table for rich conversations about common practices in one sector that are often quite different from practices in another sector.  Sharing ideas across industries help CEOs learn from one another.   What’s more, these CEOs will also share their personal triumphs and failures.  This display of trust creates an environment where the CEO can be truly vulnerable to learn and grow.  And unlike one-to-one executive coaching, which can be a rich complement to the peer advisory experience, there’s nothing quite like the power of the group dynamic.

5) Accountability – As CEOs share their challenges and aspirations with their peers, being CEOs as they are, they tend to be serious about holding their peers accountable to make the tough choices and to deliver on their stated courses of action.  As I’ve heard from so many Vistage Chairs and members, this atmosphere of shared accountability may be the most powerful dynamic of all when it comes to the peer advisory experience.

My personal disclaimer is that I’m not promoting Vistage per se, but more broadly, the peer advisory model.  I’ve personally experienced the benefits, both as an owner of a small firm and as a university adjunct professor.  When it comes to simultaneously working on your business and working on yourself, the peer advisory model has no peer.  I also don’t mind saying that I don’t believe Vistage is the best at this because I work here, I work here because I believe Vistage is the best at this – offering an unparallelled professionally facilitated peer advisory experience to all levels of business leaders in every size company.   Sit down and talk with any of our Chairs who lead these groups, most of whom are former CEOs, and you’ll discover what I’m talking about.   That said, I wholeheartedly encourage anyone to take a closer look at how peer advisory groups could work for your organization, regardless of whom you choose to assist you!

Is Your Business Telling You It Needs A Break?

The relentless charge creates fatigue and burnout within the organization and can lead to an exhausted and ambivalent workforce that is detrimental to growth, innovation and operational excellence of our business. That does not mean that we cannot push or should coast along and slack-off in regards to advancing the betterment of our businesses. However, it does mean that we have to have a formula mixed correctly in order to fuel our business for the long-run. We need to think in terms of running a marathon and not a sprint. Given that, the formula must be calibrated our culture and it must also be attenuated to our business strategy and goals.

This may all sound a bit warm and fuzzy in our hard-driving business environments, but even in the engineering world of thermodynamics, this property is acknowledged as an important consideration. Entropy is a property that can be used to determine the energy available for useful work in a thermodynamic process, such as in energy conversion devices, engines, or machines. Such devices can only be driven by convertible energy, and have a theoretical maximum efficiency when converting energy to work. During this work, entropy accumulates in the system, which then dissipates in the form of waste heat.

So how can this engineering principle be applied in business? There are several ways in fact.

Channel Focused Energy To Avoid Waste

We must focus the uses of energy. In the psychological world, ADD (attention deficit disorder) is diagnosed when an individual meets certain criteria for hyperactivity, impulsivity, or inattention.  Likewise, in the corporate world, organizations can exhibit ADD-like behavior when they mistake activity for effectiveness; when they lose focus on established objectives; and when they respond haphazardly to environmental changes.

Many well-meaning managers and leaders assume that because members of the organization are “active” that they are also “effective.”  In reality, activity does not equal effectiveness; and it’s not representative of indispensability. Rather, effectiveness is the result of “doing the right things, right”. And the right things are those activities and actions that make organizational goals a reality.


Ensure You Have The Right Type Of Energy

A 2003 MIT Sloan study identified four corporate energy zones that can either stimulate or handicap competitiveness. This in-depth study proved that organizational energy and focus is a critical component to success.

Some key points that arose from the MIT study are worth considering:

  • After more than 50 years of largely ignoring soft factors, like emotions and feelings, organizations are recognizing the powerful role that emotions play in shaping corporate behavior.
  • Corporate leaders are responsible for unleashing organizational energy and guiding it toward key strategic goals.
  • Organizational energy is the combination of the company’s emotional, cognitive, and physical states.  While difficult to measure, organizational energy is evident in the intensity, endurance, and innovation processes of a company’s work.
  • Individual energy, especially of leaders, influences organizational energy. Likewise, the energy state of the organization affects the energy of individuals.

It is the intersection of intensity and quality that determines an organization’s energy state, which usually falls into one of four categories – “The Four Energy Zones”:

  • Aggression zone (responding to threat)
  • Passion zone (responding to an exciting goal)
  • Comfort zone (coasting dangerously on past success)
  • Resignation zone (has nearly given up)

Expend It Wisely, Then Replenish Energy and Renew Excitement

Renewal of organizational energy comes from celebrating the achievement of milestones, then refocusing energy again on the next milestone. Therefore, milestones must be defined in order to be recognized when they are met and rewarded if they are accomplished according to performance acceptance criteria. Large strategic objectives can be broken down into many milestones, so there should never be a problem of advancing the business goals through milestone cycles of hard work and real celebration.


Building a Better Board

via HBS Working Knowledge

 When Stephen Kaufman took the helm at Arrow Electronics in 1982, it was de rigueur for CEOs to sit on the boards of several other companies in addition to running their own. Back then, serving as a board member didn't require much of a time commitment, and governance was a matter of trust.

"There has been a tremendous shift to the better over the past 15 years"

By the time he retired in 2002, the board-serving landscape had changed considerably. These days, serving on a few boards can comprise almost a full-time job. While quarterly board meetings used to last maybe half a day, including a catch-up-with-the-buddies lunch, meetings now span a day and a half and they happen up to six times a year. While reviewing relevant materials used to mean flipping through the annual report on the plane ride to the annual meeting, it now means spending several hours poring over hundreds of pages of company documents and SEC filings looking for problems, unreasonable risks, or even signs of fraud.

"I see much more time being spent—more meetings, longer meetings, more meaningful meetings, and more pre-meeting materials to be studied," says Kaufman, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School who sat on one outside public board during his tenure at Arrow and has since served on four other public boards and five private boards.

"There has been a tremendous shift to the better over the past 15 years," he says. "The improvement started on its own without any major external events in the late 1990s, accelerated dramatically with the accounting scandals of the Enron era plus the passage of Sarbanes-Oxley, and then continued to change under the pressure of shareholder activism. There's a lot more attention paid to non-fun stuff now, much of it being compliance mechanics that add very little to the competitive position or underlying value of the enterprise."

But while board members are now taking their jobs more seriously, their input is not necessarily as helpful or effective as it could be, Kaufman says. He recently sat down with HBS Working Knowledgeto discuss what he considers to be the biggest practical issues facing boards today: how to get and give honest assessments without eroding collegiality and trust; how to evaluate the CEO using factors that go beyond financial results; how to diagnose the corporate culture; and how to contribute meaningfully to strategy development.

Making it safe to be critical

Chief among the responsibilities of a corporate board member is to develop and share an honest assessment of the company's performance, including the performance of the CEO. The problem is that directors sometimes worry that delivering honest criticism will hurt the group's collegiality or, worse, result in reprisal—namely, getting kicked off the board and losing a gig that often pays six figures annually, plus stock options or shares.

"At $150,000 a year—a typical compensation package for a Fortune 1000 company director—it's real money," Kaufman says. "So who's going to tell Bill that we really like his ideas, but that his management style pisses people off? It can feel very risky for board members to think, 'If I pick on Bill, will he pick on me?'"

"The goal of the performance review is not just to fill out a report card, but also to help make a good CEO a great CEO."

Corporations can mitigate this issue in a couple of ways, he says. For starters, they can hire an outside recruiter to enlist new board members, so that the board includes more than just acquaintances of the CEO or other current directors. This can serve to cut down on the clubby board atmosphere. Outside recruitment has grown more common in recent years, in part because of improved governance and in part because the usual playing field of director candidates has begun to thin out organically.

"As business in general globalized and became more competitive in the '90s, as the world became more difficult, CEOs got busier and joined fewer boards," Kaufman says. "That was one of the things that led boards to look further afield for directors. They ran out of active CEOs they knew from other companies who were willing to serve."

Boards also can make it feel safer for directors to give honest assessments by hiring an outsider to interview each board member individually and aggregate the information for both the board and the CEO. "That person puts together a report that says, 'Here's what your fellow board members said you could do to be more effective as a board member or as a CEO," Kaufman says.

More comprehensive assessment metrics

Historically, a board member's assessment of a CEO's performance simply involved asking a couple of questions. One, did we make the numbers? Two, is the stock price doing OK? "It was a 10-minute conversation, and that was that," Kaufman says.

These days, the assessment is usually much more wide-spread, taking into account both quantitative and qualitative metrics other than just recent financial results, such as customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and even the CEO's leadership style and character. But even these broader assessments can lack accuracy and credibility. Too often, the board members' appraisal is based largely on how the chief executive acts at periodic board meetings and occasional one-on-one meetings, rather than on how he or she handles day-to-day activities with customers, managers, and front-line employees during the rest of the year. The CEO who seems measured, thoughtful, and open for three or four hours in the board room six times a year may actually be inciting a mass exodus among unhappy customers, disgruntled subordinates, or disengaged employees.

"I can give great PowerPoint presentations, but that doesn't tell people whether I'm Attila the Hun or a New Age Leader, or if I create a culture of fear, a culture that accepts and respects dissent, or a culture of energy and enthusiasm," Kaufman says. "A board sees the CEO at highly structured—and possibly well-rehearsed—board meetings, at a few dinners and perhaps at an annual golf outing. That doesn't tell the board whether the CEO is a listener or a lecturer, an autocrat or a democrat, or a fan of yes-men. But those are the things you need to need to know if you want to give a CEO meaningful counsel. The goal of the performance discussion is not just to fill out a report card to justify the compensation decision, but also to help a good CEO become a great CEO."

When he was at Arrow, Kaufman instituted a policy where the independent directors based their assessments of him on direct, private conversations with company executives at multiple levels of management. (He detailed the process in a 2008 Harvard Business Review article, "Evaluating the CEO.") He suggests that this, or a similar process should become industry standard.

"When companies get into trouble it doesn't usually happen overnight; it happens over the course of two or three years. Figuring that out before the numbers go bad is the greatest art of a board member."

Incorporating input from across the company also helps directors to gauge corporate culture in a way they can't from the ivory tower of the boardroom. It's important to ask questions such as, Are employees engaged? Are they enthusiastic? Are all the really smart engineers quitting in frustration? Are the best salespeople looking for new jobs? Are the high-potential, next-generation senior managers energized and growing? The answers can help the board realize whether a company with great financial results today may have terrible results in six months, six quarters, or six years—unless there's an intervention.

Kaufman recommends that board members periodically request that the company conduct anonymous surveys about employee engagement and the company culture, and then ask that the data be shared in raw form, "not the chewed and digested and spun form." He also suggests urging board members to make occasional visits to company facilities and sit in on town hall meetings.

"When companies get into trouble it doesn't usually happen overnight; it happens over the course of two or three years," Kaufman says. "Figuring that out before the numbers go bad is the greatest art of a board member."

Shaping strategy

Boards of directors also are expected to help steer strategy development, not only in small venture-backed and private companies, but in large public companies, too. Kaufman says this is increasingly difficult to do well.

"To develop good, actionable strategies you need to understand customer needs, customer behavior, and the technology behind the product or service," he says. "How is the technology developed? What changes or threats are on the horizon? What value does your product create for your customer? If you don't know these things then it's hard to develop strategy because you really don't know what's needed or what's possible. It's relatively rare that many directors really understand the physical technology or how the business operates at the street level. Therefore, it's really hard for a board to be deeply and constructively involved in developing the strategy."

Other than company insiders, those most likely to understand a company's technology and customers are its competitors and—in the case of B2B enterprises—its customers. But senior executives from such companies are generally discouraged from serving because of potential conflicts of interest.

Meanwhile, companies are under increased pressure to diversify their boards in order to include more minorities, women, and social activists. While shaking up the historical old boys' board networks may be good for balance, Kaufman observes that it can make strategy development and performance oversight that much harder. "The push for diversity creates a tension for us. We need to ensure that we recruit directors who understand the underlying technology, customer needs and patterns, and operational characteristics of the business, so they can contribute effectively to the critical strategy and investment decisions that come before the board," Kaufman says. "One lesson from the recent global financial crisis was that some financial institution boards had few directors who really understood the workings of—and risks inherent in—the sophisticated and complex derivative instruments being created and sold." 


About the author

Carmen Nobel is senior editor of HBS Working Knowledge.