Monday, July 30, 2012

Coaching: Don't be Too Timid

Beginning to understand the power of coaching – seeing the connection to respect for people by Connor Shea
Coaching is less focused on specific content then it is on the person, and the relationship’s ability to empower the coachee to find capabilities and a self sufficiency they didn’t fully believe in or know they have. ... This process keeps the understanding, ownership of the problem, and ultimately the action, in the coachee’s hands – increasing their ability to solve the immediate problem and most importantly, future ones.
I think the "lean" world is in general too passive in coaching. There are plenty of times when you are coaching a specific skill (whether that is how to notice a problem in the operational definition [maybe just missing one altogether] that leads to bad data or how to create a flowchart...). The same thing is true for coaches teaching a big man a post move or how to improve free throw shooting.

I appreciate that very wise people can just ask the right questions and get the best results (I think this is really hard to do well and the reluctance to provide any judgement in coaching is often a much bigger problem than being too prescriptive).

I see this as the prevailing attitude in "lean" attempts: "this process keeps the understanding, ownership of the problem, and ultimately the action, in the coachee’s hands – increasing their ability to solve the immediate problem and most importantly, future ones." Doesn't that seem a bit like an artificial barrier in the system? Doesn't the system context include the coaches and support system for the organization as well as the individual? I don't think the most of the success or failure rests with the coachee. They are responsible. But, whatever the results, it is the whole system that succeeded or failed, not the coachee alone.

Related: Continual Feeding - Building a Great Workforce

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Right in What Way?

The Tyranny of Being Right

It’s such an easy thing to fall into: the desire, the need, to be right. It creates huge divides between us, drives us to say and do things that cause others to either disengage or retaliate. Later, we may console ourselves with the satisfaction of winning but it’s pretty much a cold dinner left on a table that’s been deserted by friends. And if the friends are important and powerful enough, it can even turn out to be more like a last supper. The alternative is being wrong, of course, and that’s where I believe the problem lies. After all, if I am wrong, it can become a chink in the armor of my self-confidence and self-trust, and in the self-perceived, self-protected perfection of my reputation. One chink leads to another, you know, so that the possibility is all the armor might fall away and I’ll have to just stand there, both vulnerable and alone.
The way I look at it the "rightness" depends on the question.  Normally as we live the decisions we make don't really address only 1 question.  There is the question of what will be the least disruptive action.  There is the question of if it is fair to change the rules for an employee in mid stream.  There is the question of what should you spend your time on.  There is the question of what you should do to help yourself.  Etc.  You can be "right" on 1 question and that same action can be "wrong" or problematic or dangerous for another question.

Often standing for principle may be taken as doing the "right" thing.  Lets even say it is right when asking what is in the interests of the company.  But it is certainly common that doing so is the wrong thing for your career (or any of a number of other way of considering what to do).

I do definitely have the desire to be right. But I understand it isn't as simple as being right from one point of view. It is finding the right answer that optimizes to overall success on many different fronts. Sometimes the right answer is to accept that the wrong decision will be made in the meeting today, because the things necessary to get the right decision are not worth the cost.

Related: Long Term Thinking with Respect for People - We are Being Ruined by the Best Efforts of People Who are Doing the Wrong Thing

Monday, July 23, 2012

Are We A Few Heros or a Society

Drucker Institute tweet: "Does government tax policy “prevent and penalize” entrepreneurship? Weigh in!" On their post: Who Really Built This Blog Post?
President Obama, speaking to an audience last Friday, said the following: “Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” In response, Romney, highlighting the line “if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that,” has called Obama’s words “insulting to every entrepreneur, every innovator in America.” To insinuate “that Steve Jobs didn’t build Apple, that Henry Ford didn’t build Ford Motor, that Papa John didn’t build Papa John’s Pizza,” Romney added, is “wrong.” ... What do you think: What’s the best way for the government to foster entrepreneurship?
I think far worse than any of the taxes is the extremely bad job that has been done with the health care system. Deming noted this as one of the 7 deadly diseases over 3 decades ago and it is in much worse shape today. Costing twice as much as other rich countries with no better results is bad. Since the costs are so large they are huge barriers to entrepreneurs.

Even worse for entrepreneurship though is the poorly designed system where 1 employees medical expenses can cause serious damage to small companies. And the poorly designed system that makes it difficult to get coverage for previous conditions - which greatly increase the cost (in risk) of changing jobs, starting your own new business…

The recent reforms did help some, but it is an extremely small step after 3 decades of failures and making things worse. There is so much more that needs to be done. The costs and uncertainty related to health care are likely the most critical problem for entrepreneurs. Another contender is liability costs (yet another one of the decades old deadly diseases). 

The next contender is the broken patent and copyright system (which I think of as one of the new deadly diseases - along with excessive executive pay). I would put all of these far ahead of tax system issues for entrepreneurs. The biggest thing government can do is fix the 3 deadly diseases I mentioned above. People like Jobs (and Wozniak), Henry Ford, Larry Page and Sergey Brin are extremely valuable to a society. They make great contributions. Thinking they are therefore the reason for Apple, Ford and Google's success is ludicrous. They contributed. They contributed a lot. Dump them in Mali when they were born and they would not have created those companies as adults.

Saying that society doesn't play a huge role is false (a failure to understand systems thinking). Saying governments role is the same as societies also shows a poor ability to reason. The good things that Jobs, Gates, Bezos... are related to government in some ways but are much much more related to the entirety of growing a business in the USA. Inside those companies many others helped make the organizations a success.

Certain individuals do have an amazing ability to create successful systems. Again they can't do it themselves. They need other people. Granted a few of these leaders are extremely special. 95% of CEO's are decent at their jobs (or even not that good at their jobs) but replacing them with any of hundreds of other people would make little difference. But those CEO's all think they are more like Steve Jobs - they are not.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Always-On: Trivial Urgency

I think the problem is in expectations of responsiveness. People focus on the trivial "urgent" instead of the important, as Covey said.

One of the issues I have with the complaints of "always on" is looking at my father. He was always on for his whole life and had no downside. He loved what he did. He thought about it when he was taking a shower, or walking to work or having friends over for dinner or raking leaves in the yard. It never was a matter of being burdened by work. He was a professor and consultant. I think it is a mistake to see the problem as always being on. Expectations of responsiveness to thee trivial urgent though I can see as a problem.

I think there is a difference between being also on and energized by your work (that is pretty much how I am, and my father was - I am working for myself, I can work whenever I want) and feeling burdened by being expected to be always on.

The problem is I keep reading about how thinking about work all the time is horrible for people. Well in my experience that isn't true (granted it is a small set of people). But it points to, I think, an issue that the "problem" is imprecisely defined and therefore inaccurate. I do think there is an issue expecting people to be available for trivially urgent matters.

Related: Carve Out Time to Think - Circle of Influence

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Leadership: Taking Action When Others Are Unsure

When things go bad
Plan for the things you know can happen. Weather emergencies, hazmat spills, and fires come to mind. Rick Rescorla's plan for what Morgan Stanley workers should do if the World Trade Center was attacked, is one reason why that firm only lost six people out of almost three thousand on September 11, 2001. 
Include some thinking about how you will know what you're facing. While the Port Authority officials were broadcasting "stay put" messages, Rick decided that an attack was happening. He activated his plan, marching his company employees down the stairs, two by two.
I can't recall now, but I think there are studies that show people will be lulled into not acting when a group of people is around (who are also not taking action).  So something is introduced that if they were alone they would react (say leave the trade center, or investigate a seemingly risky piece of data).  But if there is a group people become more passive - thinking the non-action by others means they are over-reacting.  So they then don't react (thus re-inforcing everyone else decision not to act).

This is one of those times leadership really matters: someone not afraid to take action and potentially criticized for going against the consensus group decision to not act.

If immediately upon suggesting decisive action, people jump to support the idea it is likely they all would have done so alone but were intimidated by the non-acting group.  Either that or they respect the leader and decide to support them while not sure it is really needed.

Related: Leadership is the act of making others effective in achieving an aim - Leadership Leverage Points - quotes on leadership

Friday, July 06, 2012

Forced Rankings of Employees are Foolish

Dysfunctional Internal Competition at Microsoft: We've seen the enemy, and it is us! by Bob Sutton

This downside of forced-rankings is supported by a pretty big pile of research we review in both The Knowing-Doing Gap and Hard Facts, Good Boss, Bad Boss. The upshot is that when people are put in a position where they are rewarded for treating their co-worker as their enemy, all sorts of dysfunctions follow. Forced rankings are probably OK when there is never reason to cooperate...

Good thoughts as usual.

My thoughts are that forced ranking inside a company are bad (the golf example, I have no problem with).  Inside the company I want the people (even responsible for different territories) sharing information.  We want to constantly improve.  We want the truckers (or wherever else), wherever they are, sharing the things they are doing to make themselves more successful.  Then we want to spread what works (pilot testing them first, of course).

The system impacts are likely large.  The bottom 10% (discussion, in post, of GE firing the "bottom 10%" every year) is due how much to those people just getting lousy luck from the system.  A lot of it is, that is my bet.  I do agree you might discover some people just are not cut out for their current job.  Believing in respect for people, your first reaction should be fire.  First work with them, often that works, but sometimes not.  Then figure out where they could be useful.

The same lucky system effects are another reason forced rankings are silly.  If you insist on such a thing, just make it a lottery that everyone knows is a lottery (Dr. Deming suggested this - facetiously).  In case anyone really is thinking of this it is a stupid idea.  It is just less stupid than other forms of forced ranking.

Interestingly I here is post from 2006 where the new Microsoft HR chief state that forced ranking was eliminated due to widespread understanding of how destructive such a practice was.

In May, after barely a year as Microsoft’s human-resources chief, Lisa Brummel swept away “artifacts of the past,” starting with the widely disliked forced curve.

Related: Failed Practice: Forced Ranking (2005 post)Performance Without Appraisal

Monday, July 02, 2012

Profit = Market Price - Actual Cost or Price = Cost + Desired Profit

Comments on Google Nexus Q – Made in the USA

I agree with

"Deserved Profit = Market Price – Actual Cost"
"Price = Cost + Desired Profit."

But what I see glossed over by many lean folks when they present this is volume and the complexity involved.  The iPhone could sell 10,000 (say, or some number anyway) at $2,000 in addition to an carrier subsidy.  They can sell millions at a much lower price point.  Market price is a movable thing (depending on volume).

Also the 2nd formula is fine for deciding what products to build (theoretically - you have to be guessing at the values).  But it is totally fine to say we need a price of $350 for x product for us to decide to offer it.

The task is then to guess right.  If $350 is not going to work you give up - or more likely go back to the drawing board.  Can we make it better for just a bit more and then sell it for $400?  Can we re-engineer certain things and lower the price to $250 and even if that means we had to get rid of the ability to use wifi will that work in the market?

It definitely can be sensible to say we can't make x for less than $400 - we are not pricing it at $300.  It might mean we can only sell 10,000 instead of 30,000 if we priced it at $300.  But since at $300 we are losing $100 a unit high volume isn't great.

I think "If the market price for a device like this is $100, then you have to engineer the total product cost so it can be profitable at that price." is very well said.  Again volume is still a big issue.

Sometimes there are price cliff points - I can't imagine selling a tablet that isn't hugely better than the iPad on specs for more than the iPad price.  So above that level the volume may be miniscule.  But I think often there are not cliff points.

And the company does get to set the price.  The market then decides to buy or not, and buy in what numbers.  Apple would probably sell very few iPhones for $3,000 more than they cost today.  How many they would sell at $100 more or $100 less may change significantly but they would still be huge sellers at either of those prices.  So that "market sets the price" idea is not 100% accurate (I don't think anyway).  I do think the first formula is a better concept than the 2 formula.  But it is something that is maybe 80% accurate?  And the 2nd isn't totally worthless (it is just that it should be looked at more as a should we offer this product or not decision).

Pricing decisions also have big long term versus short term considerations.  Apple has started pricing many things in a way which makes it really hard for competitors to undercut them.  Apple, almost for sure could charge more for the laptops they sell and the iPad and iPhone.  But if they did they make it easier for a competitor to compete on price.  This pricing decision is an Apple decision not a market decision.  The market weighs in after Apple make the pricing decision.

But the price point for a kinda ok tablet at $199 - maybe will work?  Fire seems to be doing ok, for a pretty small, kinda lame, really cheap tablet.

Apple has done well create products for prices much above what people thought was market price.  It turned out people were willing to pay more for a great product.

You can notice that we are trying to sell this car for $35,000 and we are hardly selling any.  Ok, lets make it $30,000 and see what happens.

When setting what prices you will try to sell for, looking at your costs is a perfectly sensible thing to do.  Once the market tells you that you are off, you need to adapt to the market.  It isn't super easy though.  Often you can think the market failed to appreciate the value we offered because we messed up x feature and with y missing it was an issue and people will buy only black from Apple but they won't accept that from us (or whatever).  What we need to do is fix those mistakes.  The pricing given those mistakes the market sets below what we expected but that isn't really a pricing issue it is really a damaged offering issue.  Eventually mis-understanding pricing may become obvious, but it often isn't.

Anyway, my main point is just that the "market price" isn't some easy thing to know.  It isn't like looking up the freezing point of water.  I do agree with the "formula" I just think the way it is presented is often not as useful as it could be.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Why Do You Ask?

Why Do You Ask?
In order to develop problem-solvers, we need to help our mentees identify and acknowledge the problem and ultimately, solve the problem. This requires the mentee to think, to engage, and to take ownership.  The extract and tell method that is often employed by leaders doesn’t do any of that well.
Another useful reason for the question is to figure out the best response.  Often the guess about what the person is asking for is fine, but the truth is that often an answer really depends on what the person is after.  Why did car crash?  We usually don't want to know that momentum carried it into a spot occupied by something else - if even that is "correct."

Usually people don't think when they get a question: (thinking: why? well x, why x, well y, why y, well z, why z, well a, why a - ah that is basically the root cause)  then answer a, see what happened is x because of y because of z which was due to a.

Another example is if you ask where I want to go to lunch tomorrow my answer will be different if you are asking everyone (I can say my favorite choice) or if you are not sure and you know I know lots of places where should we all go to lunch tomorrow...  The purpose of the question is important.  Often we can guess it.  But often we also guess wrong.