March 22, 2012
It was the top read of the year for me, and the most impactful book on my business life since Good To Great. Why? Because the Lean Methadology changes the game, whether you are a startup or a big-old-company.
When you are Lean, you interact with customers from the get go, pivot until you find that nuts-crazy-busy product/market fit. Then you learn how to cycle through the process faster and faster over time. This way, you build products and processes people really want, and eliminate most of all waste from the system. Whew. That's the kernel of the book, basically.
This Monday, Eric was in LA for a fireside chat at a LeanLA/StartupUCLA event. He talked for an hour about the book, took some questions and I had a chance to meet him as well. Here's what I learned:
1. Failure Is A Chance To Learn - He believes that successful companies have many little failures that add up to verified learning and market intelligence. The reason you need to have the courage to launch your 'minimum viable' product, is so you can prove your assumptions wrong (or just maybe, right!). The longer you stay stealth, whiteboarding out the future, the longer it takes you to LEARN.
2. Conduct Scheduled Pivot-Or-Persevere Meetings - He suggested every 8 weeks for startups. In this meeting, you analyze what is working or failing and consider making radical changes to the business. Sounds scary, but here's his twist: If they are regular, then the employees don't freak out when you have one of these meetings! This way, between meetings, everyone is measuring what matters, in anticpation of the next Pivot-Or-Persevere summit.
3. Culture Springs Up From Your Processes - This is a new spin of what I've always thought (culture is a conversation about how things are done around here). His point is that we create explicit and tacit processes at work, and through repition, they create our opearting system down to the individual leader. How we react. You can't 'create a good culture' he says, you design and manage processes with your values in mind. A strong culture ensues.
4. First, Do The Standard Work - Eric is deeply influenced by the Japanese Lean movement for manufacturing and specically by The Toyota Production system, an obsure book by Taiichi Ohno. One of the most profound points of the book is that we must understand the standard work first, before we can customize it. Standardization is only bad when we are locked into processes in the face of adversity (pivot!).
I could see the people in the crowd react to this viscerally. We live in a world where no one wants to master the fundamentals, instead, they want to innovate from day one. But what Eric points out is that the innovators of history from Miles Davis to Steve Jobs first and foremost, understood and practiced the Standard, so as to have a real foundation to build upon.
If you haven't already, read The Lean Startup.
Read the transcript of Eric Ries talking about Taiichi Ohno.
March 16, 2012
For leaders of all types, here's an assignment: Hand out some praise today.
Think about how long a weekend can be for someone who feels under appreciated or over worked. It's emotional stew time, and you aren't around to defend yourself. When Monday rolls around, your team members are not refreshed. They are back to the grind.
When Tom Ward was turning around Barton Protective Services in Atlanta, he employed a tactic of catching someone doing something right, then on Friday, reporting it to the company. He realized something important: That which gets rewarded gets repeated.
Take a look around you today and make an effort to notice good work. Effort, outcome, thoughtfulness, tenacity .... all attributes to admire. Start with your team, fan out to adjacent groups and staff and even consider partners or customers. When you lock in on your gratitude recipeient, remember:
1. Be Specific! General praise doesn't ring true. Talk about the action, the result and how you feel about it. This will also ensure you are giving praise that others can respect.
2. Be Generous. If it's a team effort, take the time to identify all the players. Don't let the most outspoken or popular get all the cred.
3. Be Visual. A cryptic atta-boy email isn't as impactful as something you can see. We live in a Pinterest world of the picture, not the word.
A culture of appreciation is a sustainable one. Friday is a platform, an end of the grind week opportunity, for you to help create one by your example. When you take this lead, you are fulfilling what Napoleon Bonaparte identified as the leader's role: To define reality, then give hope.
March 14, 2012
One person, or a small group of likeminded individuals, can accomplish anything. Likely, they have more power than mega-organizations, due to their nimbleness and ambition. One of the greatest impacts a conference can have on an organization is to unleash this type of thinking! Leaders then align this energy towards the mission and vision - and presto, big things happen..
It's not just a matter of enthusiasm. That's necessary for the change-the-world person, but not sufficient. This was my study focus for a few years, while writing my third book, Saving The World At Work. There are three key ingredients that all roll up to unlimited power:
1. Be Audacious - When Martin Luther pinned his note to the church door, he defined the concept. Ask for the seemingly impossible. Challenge the wrong headed and unjust. Risk all by asking for all. Consider, what's the worst that can happen?
In 1989, City Year officials asked Timberland for 50 pairs of boots for a local project in Boston. Intrigued with the program, CEO Jeffrey Swartz Jr. approved the donation. When Jeffrey visited with City Year co-founder Alan Khazei, he had no idea what he was about to be pitched. Jeffrey commended Alan on how City Year was saving and improving lives, pining that he wished Timberland could do the same. Alan pounced on this with an audacious request: "Let me show you how you can..." then he pitched a merger of sorts, where Timberland made a deep investment in City Year by giving all employees a week off annually to volunteer there. Ever audacious Alan asked for City Year to office at Timberland, and have access to its resources: Legal, HR, etc.
Since then, City Year's strength has increased exponentially, due to an audacious request.
2. Be Judicious - Alan Khazei showed good judgement, striking while Swartz was waxing philosophical. That's the next ingredient - ask for the impossible very intelligently. For Joyce Lavalle, at the time a regional director for sales at Interface, it was the key to her success.
More than timing, she understood protocol. If you want to ask for the impossible in order to change the world, make sure you ask the right person! Her daughter had sent her a great book on business and ecology at a time when Joyce's sales reps were telling her that Interface (a carpet company) needed to form a sustainability program to attract future clients.
Ray Anderson, the founder and CEO of Interface, wasn't a fan of the green movement at the time. He bristled at the social-responsibility arguments that looked like cost drivers to him. But Joyce just knew that if she got this book into his hands, he'd realize it was a smart long-haul move. She knew that if she tried to deliver it, she'd fail. He didn't know her and it would be takent wrong.
So she asked her boss, a VP back at corporate, to arrange for the book to appear on his desk. It did, Ray read it, and Interace was transformed in less than three years into the most sustainable carpet company in history.
3. Be Tenacious - It's going to take some time, and some serious persistance if you want to change the world. You'll need a long term plan, and a thick skin to withstand criticism and adversity. For Louise Young, that was her secret - along with her audacity and judiciousness.
She was a quality assurance manager at defense contractor Raytheon. Her mission was to bring domestic partner benefits to the company; where it would acknowledge same-sex unions by offering health, club and death benefits to partners. Imagine how hard of a sale that would be to a mostly-military executive group. For several years, she served on the GLBT stakeholder group and built relationships with VPs from different parts of the company.
She developed a reputation as a warrior for this cause. She also built up a business case for it in two areas: Productivity & Recruing Talent. In 2001, SVP at the time, Bill Swanson, invited her to speak at the company's first diversity/hr summit. There were 400 business managers in the room, and you could her a pin drop as she made her simple plea for business-sanity. (See a clip of it here).
After the talk, she handed out cards and forged relationships. Within a year, Raytheon stunned the business community by enacting a comprehensive domestic partner benefits program. The Dept of Labor gave them an award for diversity and inclusion a few years later. She combined all three of the ingredients into a winning way to accomplish what most of us would think of as impossible.
In her remarks, she quotes Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
March 08, 2012
In HR world, they call this the "bench-strength" issue and it can be a game changer. As companies expand, new divisions are formed, requiring fresh leaders to guide them to effectiveness. For startups, this is even more critical. Pick the wrong one and you lose time, and often good talent.
Too often, we rely on the resume to find leaders. Or we let managers grow up into leading, mostly a matter of attrition. File that approach under Peter Principle. That's why so many 'leaders' are managers in power clothing. Over my career, I've recruited, fired and studied leaders. Recently, I've consulted with companies on leader spotting. There are six sure signs that you should look for when considering a promotion or a hire at a leadership position in your company:
1. She Has Followers - As the old Chinese proverb indicates, "without followers, you are just taking a walk." When she calls a meeting, including dotted line participants, do people show up? Do they pay attention and contribute? When she rolls out an initiative, do others listen and understand? Are they inspired to action? Here's a little trick: Is she often accused of poaching? Does everyone want to transfer to her group, to work with her? (PS - research suggests that a permissive manager is not a popular destination for real talent, they usually pick highly effective managers that will challenge them and win in the market.)
2. He Has A Bias To Action - When I worked for Tim Koogle (first CEO at Yahoo), he talked about how some managers were 'ings', always study-ing or think-ing about doing something. He told me the real leaders were 'eds', meaning, they execut-ed, fail-ed and learn-ed. Great leaders help thier teams make the leap from talking to doing. No happy talk!
3. She Is A Better Listener Than Talker - In a meeting, especially with her team, does she listen more than talk? Can she leave a room understanding the emotions as well as the facts? Does she have the capacity to show empathy? This is important, because if the leaders isn't a deep listener, they'll fail to see the entire playing field. Not listening is also a leadership problem from a trust standpoint. For my second book, my team conudcted a survey on the issue of trust and "doesn't pay attention when I'm talking to him" was a leading non-trust indicator, right up there with "lied to me".
4. He Has Emotional Talent - Connected with the last point, the real leader has a combination of emotional intelligence and generosity. He's in control of his emotions and respectful of others. He wants to create customer delight and be part of a great employership experience. He realizes that long after his troops forget all the things he did for them, they mostly remember how he made them feel. (thanks Maya).
5. She Is A Multiplier Of Her People's Potential - In her fabulous book, Multipliers, author Liz Wizeman points out that there are two types of managers: Multipliers and Diminishers. The former creates a good place to grow and the latter creates a place where dreams die. The multiplier is not a hoarder of resources like the diminisher. She stretches people to deliver beyond their self-perceived potential. She doesn't think of her self as the brain, with a number of hands that 'help'. She measures her success in a triple bottom line capacity: Enterprise, People, Self. In that order.
If you've crafted some leader-spotting techniques, contribute them in comments!
March 01, 2012
This week, I gave a rare talk on the subject of Social Responsiblity at a convention for credit union executives and board members. The talk is based on my third book: Saving The World At Work: What Companies and Individuals Can Do To Move From Making A Profit To Making A Difference.
For the credit union industry, this is a natural. The Credit Union Movement in North America started when a Canadian reporter named Alphonses Desjardines found out about a man in Quebec who was being charged $5000 against a paltry loan of $150. The "Just-For-Profit" banking system, he reasoned, wasn't working for people. Within a decade, St. Mary's Credit Union was founded in New Hamphire and by 1934, the Credit Union National Association was founded in Estes Park Colorado. Many of you benefit from this socially responsible structure of banking services: By and for the members. Not Just-For-Profit.
I challenged my audience to extend the vision from fairness in banking to complete social responsiblity. This includes community and cause projects as well as environmental sustainability programs. Most of all, I encouraged them to talk the walk - sharing the cause with members.
Some might argue that you should just do-the-right-thing and not make a fuss about it. Some are put off by cause marketing, so they get involved with local community projects or global concerns...and neglect to offer the giving opportunity to customers and/or employees.
This is missing the purpose of marketing. In his classic book, The End Of Marketing As We Know It, former Coke CMO Sergio Zyman declares that good marketing is "a service, that adds value when you purchase, own or consume the product." Example: Coke is refreshing!
He's right too. Think of Tom's Shoes and it's compelling one-for-one value proposition: When you buy a pair of them, a pair is given to a needy child in the developing world. By making the choice to wear these (lower quality) shoes, you have a chance to help someone far away. In our new-reality where conscipuous consumption is uncool - this is a way to spend and enjoy.
Making a difference with your purchase dollars is the new Buy One Get One Free. So, whether you are reducing environmental impact by eliminating paper (receipts, printed bank statements, etc.) or supporting the local food bank with a portion of profits - make sure the customer knows about the program! They will garner more satisfaction this way, and it may also drive loyalty and incremental purchases of your products and services.
One caviat: Be very transparent about the difference you make. If it's cause marketing, communicate exactly what percentage of profits flows through. If it's environment, provide a metric that everyone can understand (for each year you go paperless, you save a tree). This way, the customer (or in the credit union case, the member) can make an informed decision about what they are supporting - and whether it's just better to give straight to the cause.