The 7 Habits of Corporate Executives

I’ve read and listened to a good number of books on business, marketing, management, etc. which offer many excellent approaches, techniques and tips to run a successful, innovative, motivated team and organization. These books were/are best-sellers.

7_Habits_of_Highly_Effective_PeopleI know that the senior management of virtually every organization reads them and that many assign them to their teams and the next generation of leaders. “Long-term thinking,” “train, nurture and retain staff,” “always look at things from the perspective of your customers and prospects,” “treat everyone with respect and assume positive intent,” etc.

So my question is, “Why is it so rare that senior management actually follows any of that advice?”

Why do its readers go from "Good to Ghastly?"
Why do its readers go from “Good to Ghastly?”
Are they just not bright enough? Weak minded? Unable to change bad habits? Prefer “politics” to actual achievement as a strategy to advance? I mean really, WTF?

Did they mean well but revert to “Lord of the Flies” behavior after one bad quarter? Or are they just hiding their “crazy” in public most of the time? I’m asking because now that I’m back on positive side of the ledger I’m horrified at how bad it had been so often at so many places for me, my family and my friends. I had a chat with my first real business “mentor” the other night regarding helping his daughter get started in her chosen field and I was reminded how shocking it was when I first worked with him and was truly trusted, supported and empowered by him and the entire management team when we worked together in the 90’s.

We were all “jazzed up” to go to work every day, weren’t afraid to take calculated risks, and achieved great success with a small team and virtually no budget. Motivated, smart people we were and we innovated virtually every day to make the place better. Did I find a great leadership through my own research? LinkedIn? FuckedCompany.com? No, it was pure luck for me (and for them), that we “found” each other and were able to do great things and enjoy the process.

Why is that so rare today? Are 70% of Americans just idiots (as one of my best friends continually points out)? Do people really just not listen and comprehend good advice anymore? Are all “organizations” above a certain size just destined to go horribly dysfunctional because of their size? Is even the best corporate culture guaranteed to dissolve above 100 employees?

Soooo many "leaders" need to really read this book.
Soooo many “leaders” need to really read this book.
I don’t know the answer and believe me, I’m not complaining – I love competing against badly managed companies with toxic management styles and dysfunctional cultures. The bigger and better resourced they are, the better; it makes for greater satisfaction when you beat them and have your pick of their customers and their best employees.

I still would like to know the answer but until then I’ll just enjoy the fact that the competition is not going from “Good to Great,” doesn’t live by the “No Asshole Rule” and clearly hasn’t adopted “7 (or even 1), Habit of Highly Effective People.”

p.s.: When asked what my favorite “business” books are, the response is simple: “The Essential Drucker” and “The No Asshole Rule.” Great advice to work and live by everyday-

Best. Business. Book. Ever.
Best. Business. Book. Ever.

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Why So Much of the Same Ads?

If TV this month is any indication then I’d say that clearly:

1. We all need new car insurance (and haven’t decided on who to buy it from)

and…

2. We’re all potential voters that are “undecided” at the moment

 

Really?  That many of us haven’t decided?

 

My theory is that advertising agencies and their “inside” men and women are doing a phenomenal job – a phenomenal job of convincing their clients that we the people haven’t decided yet and that another 100 or so viewing “impressions” (industry term) of that “reptile” each week will make the difference (Geico’s The Martin Agency does a good job too).

They’re slinging what the industry calls FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) at their own clients and it’s working.

So people, brace yourselves for lots and lots more Flo, Gecko, the deep-voice actor guy, the guy that played Brenda’s boss on The Closer, Aaron “Discount Double Check” Rodgers and, oh yeah, Barack and Mitt because the agency guys are gooooood.
On the bright side at least I get to see more of Ronald using karaoke to get his “profile” out there and save money on online dating (it is so popular btw that they released an extended version on YouTube for Ronald’s fans)
Apparently Ron’s “hairline is receding, but (he’s) getting a weave”

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The difference between people and resources

I went to university with a scholarship from Hewlett Packard. Actually everyone on the course I was on had to have a scholarship to be part of the course. It was a course setup by a consortium of industry leading computing companies to fill a need they had for people who were specifically trained for roles in their industry. If I remember correctly the sponsors were IBM, HP, DEC, Data General, Wang and a couple of other names. Of these only a couple of those trade names are still in existence, with the others being consumed in mergers and acquisitions.

Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard
The founders of HP

As part of the course we all spent time (time that on every other university course was vacation), going to large corporate training centers and taking courses in such exoteric subjects as x25 configurations, system 360 basics , sales methodology and troubleshooting skills, among others.

Dr An Wang
The founder of Wang Labs

It was a major investment, and one that was a win, win for the corporations and the students. When we graduated, I believe virtually every graduating student got offered a position with either their sponsoring company or one of the other companies on the course.

I look back at that program and think it showed a level of corporate responsibility that is missing from the world today. Instead of training people, companies look to hire pre-trained candidates. And as a previous blog Business Shoot Thyself pointed out, this is a silly situation where the overall quality of candidates goes down over time, as the pool of knowledge is not enhanced.

The key to me was that companies recognized that spending the time to train new employees while costly ensured that a business was able to keep and grow its culture. When you fail to spend that time and effort to help new employees understand why a business has been and continues to be successful, then in fact you are rolling the dice every round of employment. Will the good ideas of the past be remembered?

The issue is exacerbated when after a few years those previous new hires then go out and hire for themselves. They are likely to continue to treat the next round of employees just as they were treated.

The concept can be seen very simply as follows:

When a new business is formed, the founders have a deep passion for their business, and they have the desire to instill this passion in those they hire.

James Watson
The founder of IBM

But when a business gets some distance from the founders, often that passion is diluted and it is not passed onto new hires.

The result is that where founders hire people, those without passion for their business hire resources.

How can you tell when this happens? I’ve read quite a few papers from places like the HBR that try and but a business size or revenue number on this tipping point. I’d suggest the answer is much simpler.

If everyone in the business cannot answer one simple question, then the business has moved from hiring People to hiring resources, and this one question is:

“What business are we truly in”.

If the answer is we are in the business of making money, it’s too late, but if the answer is along the lines of “we’re in the business of solving problem x, or making people feel good” then the business has a healthy dose of passion in its blood.

Companies that know why they exist, and see profit as just one of the results of doing what they are passionate about as opposed to the only goal will be around for many decades or longer and will inspire and improve the world.

While those who focus on resource management as a way of maximizing profit are going to merge and acquire their way into homogeneity.
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Businesses: Shoot Thyself in Foot Much?

Real face-to-face training is becoming a fairy tale.

Companies no longer really train employees.  It saves them money to cut or minimize training and new skills programs.   And with employees no longer having to “waste” time in training, they can do more of their regular work (as well as cover some of the work that used to be done by their boss/co-worker/employee that no longer works at the company (and who may or may not ever be replaced)).  As expected, companies still make it look good and tout their commitment to the “learning/knowledge growth thing” and their extensive library of online classes employees can access (on their own time of course).

What about when you do need to hire?  There’s got to be plenty of unemployed candidates who’ve had the exact job role, right?   Those candidates will be thrilled just to get back to working and doing the exact job they had last year, right?  The recession solves the problem and keeps a lid on frivolous expenses like training new hires or cross-training employees to enable them to take on different roles in the company in the future.  Win-win!  It is win-win, right?

What’s interesting is that senior management’s cunning plan of using the recession combined with this hiring strategy is simply not working.  A recent survey confirms that employers are frustrated with the lack of skills of candidates they’re reviewing and that it is taking much longer than anticipated to fill job openings because of it.  Firms that don’t want to fill in the skills gaps of otherwise great candidates with some post-hire training essentially are annoyed that candidates’ previous employers didn’t train them well enough (think about that one for a moment… and then consider if your firm fits that ironic description).  So short-sighted, it’s almost unbelievable.  Good to Great?  Mmmmm, maybe not.

To these many, many firms I say, “Shoot thyself in foot much?”  Oh, and advice for employees and investors of these firms… short the stock. (186)

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“Donations” and Other Former “Free”-bies

Has anyone else had enough of secret fees, extra charges for things that were free last year (or last week), and “mandatory donations?”

Having to pay hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for the right to pay full price for season sports tickets???  e.g.: Duke basketball fans can buy 4 season tickets at full price with a yearly donation of $15,000-$58,500.  That sure is a nice reward for your best customers, isn’t it?

A delivery charge from Domino’s Pizza accompanied by a reminder to tip the delivery guy???  Where does the delivery charge go Mr. Pizza Boss? – New laces for the sneakers he wears when he walks 2 blocks to deliver my pie perhaps???

Coming to your next flight?

My bank (ironically billed as “America’s Most Convenient Bank”), charged me 50 cents to check the balance on one of my other accounts at their in-bank ATM this week.  Really?  Yes, really-

And don’t get me started on the airlines – I fully expect pay toilets and an extra charge to recline my seat any f#%*ing day now!!!

This kind of bait and switch crap is really pissing me off and I’m putting all the young Harvard MBAs who thought this crap up on notice: Clean up your act and trade in your “Carny Scams” manual for “The Essential Peter Drucker” or I’ll find you and make you wish you had!

The Carny/Harvard MBA: “Princes Among Men” ?

Gotta run now, I see a young man in a suit taking notes at the “Pop the Balloon, Win Big Prize!” carnival booth-

Note: Museums with a specific “suggested donation” aren’t any better than these Harvard carnies’ and their scams… A “$5 Suggested Donation” sign in front of some old battle axe woman who gives you the stink-eye until you pony up is extortion, not a gentle suggestion. (23)

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Angry About the “Sandwich”

Sometimes in business the proverbial “shit sandwich” ends up on your plate.  It sucks that it does, but that is reality in the workplace.  When a shitty, no-win project or scenario does end up on your work plate, your options only really include: a. Eat it, b. Starve and look for work at a better restaurant/place,  or c. Send it back to the asshole chef who has the power to cripple and end your career (and then see what happens).

Unless you own your own business you should consider in advance what you’ll do if and when the sandwich comes your way (because it most likely will).   If you anticipate (and/or have already been served) shit sandwiches at your current restaurant and option b. is the most palatable option, I suggest start looking at alternative “restaurants” now (not all places are as bad as most, so reducing your chances of getting the foul meal is at least possible).

Unfortunately the asshole quotient in the management ranks of most organizations has never been higher, despite the great works of Peter Drucker, Jim Collins, Stephen Covey and especially Robert Sutton (author of the brilliant book, “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t”), which all speak to how to treat, motivate and empower employees and managers to enable success.

“Secret Santa” gift for your boss?

Many managers are bullies, cowards, political animals, idiots, and/or overall ass-clowns so the recommendation is to be ready, to anticipate if and when those kind of no-win projects/scenarios (aka “shit sandwiches”), are likely to come your way, and to take action BEFORE the waiter comes to your table.

Thanks for listening and have a good lunch-

 

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I hate the culture of indecision

I’m a big believer in the power of doing stuff. Doing anything is good, if it turns out in doing something you made a mistake, well then you do something else to fix it and move on, with increased knowledge.

When you do something the worst that can happen is that it turns out to be the wrong thing, and so you have to work a bit harder to fix it, and then do the right thing. But you did it, whatever it was and the world kept on turning and (generally) no one died in the process.

Of course I’ve making a generalization here, but I believe people have the best intentions when they do something, pretty much anything, and when guided by your common sense and knowledge of a situation, the chances are you are doing the right thing.

In most situations where there are two (or more) choices the worst thing you can do in nothing. It’s of course entirely possible that doing nothing was the right choice, but in my experience., doing nothing is only the right choice in a very small percentage of times. But it’s the choice taken far too often.

In business and in most personal and decision making situations people who are scared of their own shadows tend to want to analyze a situation continually, as a way of avoiding decisions.

There is an old saying “look before you leap”, but there is equally another saying “he who hesitates is lost”. The ability to make a decision before absolutely every possible choice has eroded over time is the mark of a leader. Being able to take a calculated risk, is what separates those who life a valuable and full rewarding life from those who do not.

All of the greatest world leaders, business leaders, visionaries and successful people have known and act this way. It’s okay to make a mistake; it’s generally not okay to not do anything.

Without risk, despots would never have been defeated, amazing feats of engineering would never have been achieved, and the most creative businesses and geniuses would never have reached their highest levels of success.

Winston Churchill’s life was full of decisions that he made that proved to be wrong, from which he learnt his greatest lessons in humility, leadership and eventual greatness.

Many mistakes were made politically and scientifically before a man made it to the moon and back, and the lessons that were learnt lead to decades of amazing advancement in all the fields of science.
I had the honor of sitting down with each of the two founders of Hewlett Packard many years ago, and Dave Packard told me that the secret of their success lay in the simple idea of trying several really big things at a time, with the full knowledge that some of them would fail. But he was confident that the ones that would work would pay for all the research they have invest in and all the projects that had failed as well.

And he knew that the people who worked on the things that failed would be the experience that would make the successes for their company in the future. For decades HP was a company that thrived on leading the technology of the world into new areas. It was only after Bill and Dave became too old to run the company that this model slowly changed. And their company became very risk averse. They still made amazing technology, but then it was just iterations and improvements on what everyone else is doing.

They have tried many times since then to reignite the flame of innovative risk, and I truly hope they succeed.

Whenever a business chooses to eliminate all risk entirely they are forced to stop innovating and instead focus purely on efficiency.

In the paraphrased words of Peter Drucker (one of the most amazing management consultants the world has ever seen) “the role of a company is to create and keep customers, only once they can do this well, should they look at creating and keeping customers efficiently and effectively”

The bottom line is you need to truly understand why you do what you do before you worry about doing it well. If you limit what you do to just focusing on something well, you will never be able to do anything new.

If you are driving your car on the highway, and the road splits in two, you need to make a decision and make it before you hit the barrier. That’s taking a calculated risk. If you turn left and it turns out that right was the right answer, well you take the next exit come back and do it again. But if you keep going down the middle line and don’t make a decision you will crash. It happens.

In life and in business if you see people who are unable to make any form of decision, and use every technique possible to avoid looking like they are unable to make a decision, then you are looking at someone with very low self-esteem. I call the inability to make a decision “making an indecision”.

Not everyone is able to make decisions, some people work best as followers, and that’s fine, so long as they are not in positions where making indecisions effects others.

Know indecision makers for what they are!

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