25 August 2009

Don't Mistake Loyalty for Leadership

A common trait of founders, CEOs and in fact most executives, is the loyalty they command among their troops. During times of crisis (including most of the early years of a developing company, integration of mergers, etc), loyalty is a critical characteristic of the leadership team. But in order for a company to scale, leadership is much more important than blind faith alone. It's apparently quite difficult to separate the two. And clearly, the bonds born of loyalty are hard to overcome.

As companies mature and it becomes necessary for management decisions to distribute beyond a strong single central decision maker, loyalty alone is not sufficient to generate good decisions. So CEOs need to steel themselves to objectively view their teams as either capable or not to operate on their own. Coloring (or perhaps blinding) the decision of who sits in these important leadership seats is a mistake too often made.

02 July 2009

Now these were some real Founders!

THE 4TH OF JULY Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence?

Five signers were captured by the British and executed as traitors. They were tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War. They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

What kind of men were they? Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners; men of means, well educated, but they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured. Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags. Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton. At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt. Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished forever. Some of us take these liberties so much for granted, but we shouldn't. So, take a few minutes while enjoying your 4th of July holiday and silently thank these patriots. It's not much to ask for the price they paid.

Remember: freedom is never free! - enjoy the fruits of their efforts this weekend and every day.

23 June 2009

How did you get here? And where do you go from here?

This morning, I presented this speech to our first Leadership Class at Force 3. The class is taking place at the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland.

Eight years ago, I had the honor of addressing the first leadership class that my company at that time, Transcentive, ever held. I gave those remarks in June of 2001. And our leadership program became the launching pad for greatness for Transcentive’s professionals as we dealt with the tragedies of 9/11 during which we lost several of our customer and partner community, the dot.com meltdown which changed the complexion of the entire technology industry and specific to Transcentive’s business, changes in stock option regulations that almost swamped our industry.

In preparing for this program, I shared with Rocky and with Jim the remarks I had made at that time. When he read them, Rocky thought that they still resounded today and asked me to address you with similar thoughts. It was interesting that many of the same themes still apply today.

As many of you know, I like to read. I like to learn. Perhaps I get that honestly from my mother who was a teacher for some 35 years. Of all the books that I have read, one of my favorite books is The Last Word on Power, by Tracey Goss. What Tracey says is that everything that got you to where you are today will hold you back from succeeding in the future. At first glance this seems a bid absurd. But in reasoning through her words and arguments, it now appears perfectly clear to me. The stuff I did in the past to succeed, was intended to solve the issues, problems and situations that I encountered at that time. My new role at Force 3 has required drastically different thinking. Drastically different responsibilities in a drastically different market. When it comes down to it, if you think that life has changed, or that your role at work has changed, how could applying the same recipe to it really work?

Think about managers for a moment. We insert managers into most organizations to help direct workers and projects. Most managers got to that position by succeeding in what they had done in the past. Either you were an individual contributor and you got good at your contributions, or you were a manager of people or projects and you were able to drill your team and help cause some successes. Either way, you were promoted based upon what you had already done under very different circumstances. So how can we expect that same person to be prepared for this new role without providing them with new training or guidance? But in most cases we don’t! And it leads directly to something that has become known as the Peter principal. We promote people until they get to a point where they are no longer successful. Until their success formula breaks down.

These two concepts – Tracey Goss’s and Peter’s both actually converge. If you are not capable of giving up your past, or reinventing yourself, you have no chance succeeding going forward.

· What if we kept acting as if 9/11 never happened,
· or expect to keep acting the same despite the financial meltdown?
· What if we kept acting like we were still a 100 person company.
· What if we kept acting like Obama never got elected.

You get the picture. Our actions change because the world in which we live is different. Our situations are different. And in fact all of our jobs are different.

But many people end up as positional managers. Positional managers are managers who manage based upon what position they hold. Like, I am the Sales Director so the sales people will do what I say. In fact positional authority often does cause short term action.

But in the long run positional managers are ineffective. They are limited by what they know, how much domain they can control, and how demanding they are. Their people respond only to their demands. They do not trust their manager, nor care about the end results. Since often times it is the positional manager who then succeeds (if there is success) and the workers get only the blame. This is sort of like treating people like machine parts. Henry Ford era. Think about the professional basketball coach Phil Jackson trying to get 5 prima donnas to listen to what he tells them to do. That simply does not work in this day and age.

What’s required are Leaders! Leaders are managers who have figured out that their position (their title) is meaningless. I tend to call it the second step of becoming an effective manager.

Leaders attract talent they don’t herd them.
Leaders inspire workers, they don’t push them.
Leaders listen more often than speaking.
Leaders motivate they don’t just manage.
Leaders do the right things, they don’t just do things right.

So let’s talk a little more about leaders and how they differ from managers. First of all effective leaders are genuine. What does that mean? Well first of all, we know in today’s complex environment that it’s impossible to know everything about everything. Certainly life and industry used to be much simpler. But today, can you really tell me that you know everything they need to know to get the job done? Do you really know how to do even just your own job? Aren’t there things you wish you knew? Aren’t there books or seminars or people you could talk to or other companies who MIGHT do things better, more efficiently, more innovatively than what you today are doing in your own departments?

So the starting point is: check your ego at the door!

Second step, realize that there is no involuntary servitude in this country. Your department, your coworkers and everyone across the entire organization is there because they CHOOSE to be, not because they have to be. Many of you already know that. We’ve experienced extremely high turnover for a company our size and for our position and performance and potential. The reason for it is US! Don’t point to any other cause other than we are inept at leading (and perhaps in hiring). People leave because they are not being led, or they don’t chose to be lead by YOU! Once you realize that, you’ll find that in order for you to succeed, you need to connect with your people and ensure that they are ready and eager to be lead…by YOU! If you think about it it’s an awesome task.

The main reason that people want to be led by you is that you empower them. You offer them the opportunity to be great. And you make sure they know when they are and they aren’t. And then empower them to do it better than you ever could on your own. That doesn’t mean they run haywire throughout the organization. That doesn’t mean that you don’t mentor them, provide them with insights that perhaps you learned the hard way, that doesn’t mean that you don’t reward and punish their behavior. It does mean that you start out with great people (good hiring is very important) that are BETTER than you or can become BETTER than you in figuring out how to do the job. So that’s step 3, find better people than you to do the job. Remember Phil Jackson and our basketball analogy. No successful coach is nearly capable of going out and beating his players. So why wouldn’t you hire people who are better than you at that job?

Then fourth, you got to give them a good reason to excel! Why should they WANT to do a good job. To me again the answer is pretty clear. WIIFM. What’s in it for them? Figure it out, in advance and respond to it. Our millennials, generation X’s and Y’s are motivated by different things that perhaps our parents or even ourselves. They want freedom, they want recognition, certainly they want rewards, but most of all they don’t want a wet blanket manager who holds them down and suffocates their initiatives.

This is all driven by your workers knowing that you care.

People don’t care about how much you know unless and until they know how much you care.

That is until you convince your team that you care enough to make them great. And by the way, if its bullshit. If you just say you care and every action that you take is to try to make YOURSELF look better, it won’t work.

That you care enough to ensure that they get credit for what they do. That you care enough to discipline them when they stray.

Caring includes, setting the example yourself. When you become a leader, you’ve got to walk your own talk. That is, never ask someone to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself. That means that just because you’re the boss, doesn’t mean that you don’t have to get your hands dirty. That means that you participate, you put yourself in a position where you are just as vulnerable as they are. You become one of the team, not just the boss. That means putting yourself in a position where you can fail and look bad just like them? To do this you have to become a very sensitive listening device. Stop talking and start listening.

And most of all, seek out the people in your organization that themselves can become great leaders. Because the highest level and most important contribution to a business organization is not being a great contributor, although where would we be without them, its not being a manager of projects or people, although we need them as well, and its not even being a leader of people, although that would propel most any organization to greatness. The real challenge is to become a leader of leaders.

Since coming to Force 3, I’ve pushed our executives to each identify of their own successors. Now that may seem a little foolish. It also may sound like I was ready to replace these managers and just wanted their help in selecting the “who”. But in fact it was a test of leadership. Because you see that despite all you may have heard or what you may think, the way to make yourself indispensable in an organization is to make yourself dispensable. If you are not able to do this, then… your organization will always need you around to do the work. That means when you are not there, productivity lags. That means when you are called upon to reach the next level, you will be skipped over, because there is no one there to fill your void. Think about it. Sounds pretty logical. The best managers are the ones in which their departments manage themselves.

How do you find these future leaders?

· They are the ones with passion and motivation.
· They are the ones that ask to do more.
· They are the ones that are not just looking out for themselves.
· They are the ones who don’t take anything for granted.
· They are always wrestling with the status quo and looking for better ways to succeed.

You’ll know a leader as the one who heads the team into the forest. Climbs the highest tree herself. Surveys the territory and then declares: Wrong Forest! Not just seeing the forest from the trees; but being willing to acknowledge mistakes and make bold moves to correct past actions.

Leaders are forever raising the performance bar, and they like to keep score. They are the optimistic ones. The ones you feel good talking with. The ones that don’t suck the energy out of you and point out all the reasons something can’t get done, but rather ask why not? They may not be the smartest. They may not have the most experience in our particular business. But you know when you meet them that they can do whatever it is you need of them. They don’t have a big ego. They usually describe their past successes as having been either lucky or caused by the greatness of their team.

And so why this program? Leadership is not something you are necessarily born with. It can be learned but does require a commitment. A commitment like what we asked you to start here, by preparing for and attending this week.

And so how do we get there. First of all it takes commitment. Your senior management team’s commitment is required. Because if they don’t raise the bar, no one else can. So you have our commitment. First embodied by this program. And soon to become a part of everything we do at Force 3.

What’s in it for you? I think this is an opportunity unlike any I’ve ever been given. So take advantage of it. It’s your ticket to your next level of thinking and hopefully acting. It’s your next step along the way of your progress to give you an opportunity to become a better leader of whatever it is you are going to lead? Whether that be your children, your civic group, your tribe, your department, your country, or your company. I believe you will find it’s worth the effort. Work hard at it and together we’ll see real tangible results. By creating a culture of leadership we’ll together be able to take this company in new directions and to levels we’ve never dreamed were possible. Because institutionalizing leadership, as we are starting today, is the ultimate act of leadership.

Enjoy the next three days. Work hard and come away with new ideas and new motivation to make Force 3 and even greater part of our collective community than it is today.

15 June 2009

Founder Non-Admissions

A CEO friend of mine posted this slide show on her facebook account. Having read and sat through many a business plan presentation, I would have to say that most of this is true.

26 April 2009

Our National(s') Pasttime (Sgt Delgado's Response)

Sgt Delgado, the subject of my last blog entry, responded to the opportunity that he had to throw out the first pitch at the National's game in a letter to his CO. He included the quote below as the preface. Quite a touching impact.

A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards. More than that no man is entitled, and less than that no man shall have.

-Theodore Roosevelt, on Patriotism


I'm writing you today to inform you of the outstanding day me and my son Giovanni had at the Military Appreciation Game Phillies Vs Nationals. To begin, Never in my life did I imagine myself throwing out the first pitch it was the most amazing experience that wouldn't have been possible without your support. Nadia of the Nation

als was also very instrumental in allowing SPC Wood to catch the 1st pitch, at the same time allowing my son to walk with me onto the field. When walking to home plate I was able to see Jesus Flores who then signed my Jersey, and gave my son a baseball. The walk to the mound was also an experience which I shall never forget, it's great to know that all present at the game support our Troops. After throwing the pitch, it's was great that SPC Wood dropped the ball and now my 1st Pitch Ball has official dirt from the Stadium. The excitement still didn't end after the pitch, the entire Nationals Dugout came to shake our hands. We had an amazing time during the game, and the NATS won the game for the Troops talk about an amazing game. (HOOOAH) Need less to say the excitment still didn't end, after Adam Dunn hit a homerun, the BIG 44 came over to me and son and gave him the bat. I would have to say that this was one of the few times Gio was speechless. As I saw Adam walk I called out his name and said Thank You Very Much, Adam kindly turned and said no problem. It was at that moment that my son turned to me with tears in his eyes " Daddy, yes Gio, this is a day I will never forget I Love You". Sean I want you to know that you will always be in our hearts even after I have finished my time at Walter Reed. I would also like to Thank the Nationals" Orginazation ( Especially Nadia,) and all the players for making this the most memorable day in my son's life as well as mine. May God Bless You Always.


SSG Delgado Rafael - Able Company WTB

6900 Georgia Ave. N.W.

Building 14 Abrams Hall #2080

Washington DC 20307

17 April 2009

Our National('s) Pastime

On Thursday night, 17 April, I had the priviledge of attending The Washington National's Military Appreciation night down in DC. Our company, Force 3, sponsored the night, and as such we were able to go down on the field for batting practice and Rocky Cintron, our CEO was able to welcome the crowd as well as some guests of honor. I've reproduced Rocky's own Blog (it's published inside our fire wall at Force 3 so I was unable to link to it) together with some photos of the event. I think you will enjoy the read and perhaps remember that its not just on Veteran's day that we should remember our veterans.

These are Rocky's words....

Last night was a fitting reminder of why I'm still a baseball fan. The weather was glorious for mid-April, no rain, a slight breeze, temps in the high 60’s, the intoxicating smell of Hot Dogs as you enter the stadium and 20,000 hopeful fans (1/2 of them from Philly) believing anything is possible with 150 games left in the season. It didn’t matter that the Nats were 0-7. I still remember 1988 when the O’s began the season 0-21 having the good fortune of gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated (no O’s fan will ever forget the downtrodden look of Billy Ripken sitting in the dugout, head in hands) – eventually finishing the season at 54 – 107, 34 ½ games back in the standings. Gratefully, and solely because Force 3 sponsored Military Night, the Nats will not succumb to an 0-21 start, having successfully bashed the World Champion Phillies 8-2. There was joy in Mudville last night.

Beyond the drama of the game and before the players took the field I was witness to something much more heartfelt. I had the privilege of being able to go down on the field and watch batting practice with some other lucky fans some of which were in our armed forces. I walked over to one of the soldiers, Sgt. Delgado, and introduced myself. Sgt. Delgado had recently gotten out of Walter Reed after his tour in the mid-east. He had a cane with him and was leaning against the concrete wall behind home plate. I quickly found out that he was going to throw out the first pitch. By his side was his friend (I never got his name), not in uniform who was going to assist him out to the pitcher’s mound. Sgt. Delgado informed me that his buddy was a rabid O’s fan and was a walking encyclopedia of Camden Yards, and indeed he was. His friend told me that last week he had a dream come true and actually threw out the first pitch at Camden Yards. The two men were like 10 year old boys basking in the glory of America’s favorite pastime. Sgt. Delgado actually thanked me for sponsoring Military Night and said “you guys are heroes for doing this. I never thought I would get the chance to be on a Major League field watching batting practice, let alone throwing out the first pitch.” My response was simply “you are the hero”. I looked behind the Sergeant and saw a little boy with bright eyes, a wide grin and a baseball mitt. Sgt. Delgado turned and told me that the little guy was his son. A Nats representative then came up to Sgt. Delgado and handed him the baseball that would be used for the opening pitch. Delgado’s friend asked the representative if he thought it would be OK if he caught the first pitch. The rep had the right response, “I don’t see why not”. The two men were absolutely giddy, high fiving each other and talking “smack”. I wished them good luck and walked away smiling at how this game can turn any of us into little boy’s once again playing on the sandlot.

Minutes after this exchange it was time for the Star Spangled Banner and immediately after came the ceremonial first pitch. Sgt Delgado, began his walk out to the mound, aided by his cane, concentrating on his dual prosthetic legs to carry him forward, flanked by his buddy, who we soon found out also had a prosthetic leg. Sgt. Delgado positioned himself and waited as his friend walked back towards the plate. Delgado’s battery mate assumed a makeshift crouch, bending his right knee with his left leg straightened to the side as they prepared to once again team up and deliver. This time it was not for their country but solely for the joy of the moment, to feel what it is like to hear the cheers of thousands. Delgado delivered a strike to his buddy, and although he momentarily dropped it, he deftly scooped it up, and then quickly hobbled to the mound to embrace his friend. Sgt. Delgado’s son was jumping up and down cheering on his dad while many watched – tears leaking out of the corner of their eyes. These two men gave much more than their commitment to our country. They were thankful that they served and grateful that they and their colleagues were acknowledged for their service. This is why Force 3 sponsors Military Night at the Ballpark.

Rocky Cintron, CEO Force 3, Inc. Crofton, MD

12 April 2009

Meetings -- the Silent Killers

If you are like most people, much of your day is taken up by meetings. And, when you really dissect the amount of time you spend in meetings, can you determine how much of that time was well spent?

I've spent a good deal (of productive) time trying to deal with this issue in my own situation. I've shared this with my colleagues. Below are my thoughts.


• People are very busy.
• Meetings represent a sizable percentage of our busy days.
• Meetings are often too large.
• Meetings are often unproductive.


Meetings need to be tightly controlled – the agenda should be set in advance; not everything is fair game – if it wasn’t expected to be discussed, it shouldn’t. People need to arrive on time and meetings need to be completed on time. Cell phone calls should not be accepted. Any follow up items and decisions from the meeting need to be documented.

Preparation is key – all meetings should have a known purpose. EVERYONE who will participate in the meeting should come prepared. If there is information that will be discussed in the meeting it should be disseminated in advance. If people are not prepared, the meeting should be postponed.

Meetings are for decisions – Meetings should not be show and tell – That was for elementary school. Unless a meeting is to a large group and specifically designed for mass dissemination of information, necessary information should be disseminated in advance so that it can be read and digested prior to the meetings. Meetings should become less presentation and more decision making. This should speed along the process.

Reduce the number of participants – In my opinion, the most important meetings are one-on-ones. This is where you really connect, where you can direct feedback and where you can actually understand how the other party is feeling about the topic. When the number of people grow, the communication generally gets worse. It’s been said that your ability to get each person in a meeting to understand the information discussed goes down by the square of the number of participants. So if you have five people in a meeting it is 25 times more difficult. Think of a meeting with 10 people, where it is 100 times more difficult. Having people who are not critical to the meeting (not just who will be impacted by the meeting) participate usually explodes the scope and expands the agenda, waters down the communication, or just wastes time.

Everything should not be fair game in every meeting - Just because people are together in a room does not mean they should discuss whatever they needed to raise with that person. That happens better in one on ones. Group discussions need to be limited to the specific topic and only to things that critically matter to that topic.

It’s OK to hurt someone’s feelings by not including them in a meeting – When it comes to meetings, titles and positions should not matter. Meetings should be focused on accomplishing a goal. People who are needed to create that solution should attend. Everyone else should be happy not to be burdened.

Follow-up is critical – If the meeting was important enough to have, it was important enough to document. Certainly any critical decisions that were made in the meeting, and ideas that were uncovered, or any follow-up items and commitments made, should be documented. If this is a regularly scheduled meeting, then this summary should be discussed at the start of the subsequent meeting and people who committed to follow-ups should discuss the completion (or not) of their committed actions.

18 March 2009

Executive Skills in the "New" Economy - newly minted MBAs (and others) take note!

A colleague of mine provided this article that he found on the web. I thought it would be important reading for any executive who is struggling with managing people under the current economic reality.

The hard work of soft skills

15 March, 2009
By Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman, HR Columnist, Troy Media Corporation

At a claim office of about 125 employees, the head of Human Resources spent the day observing the local manager. Not only had the office ranked high on productivity, but this particular manager had received fantastic feedback on her company's Leadership Measurement survey. So the HR executive was curious to watch her interact with employees to figure out what generated this great response.

As they walked through the office, conversing about the normal work conditions, the manager would often stop and refer to specific individuals: "Steve over there has been in our area for 15 years. Steve also coaches Little League. They won their game last Thursday."

Then they'd move on to someone else, and as they left that person's area, quietly the manager would say, "Sally had some problems with her daughter this year. You know how difficult teenagers can be. We've had many sessions behind closed doors where Sally's trying to sort through these problems."

Months later, when I interviewed the HR executive, that day at the claim office was still etched in her mind. "It became apparent to me," she explained, "that this manager knew all of her people. And I don't mean just knew their jobs. She knew each individual - their backgrounds and hobbies, what their concerns were, what got them excited. She knew when they were upbeat because things were going well, and she knew when they were struggling and needed her time and attention. I asked her how on earth she could do this for 125 people. Her response: 'That's my job.'"

Great leaders understand that you can't pay people to excel. You can only pay them to show up. But once you've got them there, the leader's job is to encourage people to excel by creating an atmosphere of caring, trust and inclusion. Sun Tzu, author of the Chinese "The Art of War" put it this way: "Regard your soldiers as your own children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys. Treat them as your own beloved sons, and they will be with you even unto death."

As an expert on the "human side" of organizational change, I have been a guest on hundreds of radio call-in programs over the past several years, but I especially remember one in the Northwest, when an unusual number of disgruntled employees were phoning in with corporate "horror stories."

People complained about being unappreciated and overlooked. They spoke of callous treatment from uncaring bosses, and reported that they worked for organizations "just interested in making a buck." For the entire hour, calls followed the same line. Finally, in genuine disgust, the interviewer said to me: "The principles you're giving us sound so simple, why aren't more managers following them?"

I didn't have to think twice about my reply: "With all the diet books on the market, why aren't we all thin and trim? What could be simpler than reducing calories and increasing exercise?"

The answer to my question and his is the same. Things that are simple are not necessarily easy.

My work has enabled me to deal with business leaders around the world, and not once have I encountered a boss who despised all his or her employees. On the contrary, the leaders I've met were genuinely concerned about the well-being of people who reported to them. (Even the occasional leader whose only focus was on the bottom line understood that the best way to increase profits was to build the commitment of talented employees.) When you think of the qualities that leaders need to encourage in their employees -- responsibility, creativity, caring, commitment -- you can see why coercion or manipulation just doesn't work. The leaders who influence us the most are those who understand that engagement and productivity are not about rules, regulations, and rewards -- or the struggle to keep people "in line."

In general, it's the soft skills of leadership that are paramount. Leaders (and their organizations) won't succeed without a genuine caring about people and the ability to develop and nurture interpersonal relationships.

This is something that the MBA industry is grappling with today. Many business schools are revisiting their offerings to see if they still have relevance in the 21st century. Consider Harvard Business School, the blue-chip brand of all MBA programs, which used 2008 (its centennial year) to convene worldwide experts on business education and plot its directions for the next 100 years.

The results: Deans and recruiters said that MBAs in general needed better communication skills, increased self-awareness and an enhanced capacity for introspection and empathy. HBS is now looking at several change proposals, among them a program to develop various soft skills in its students.
Isn't that simple?

Not easy, mind you, But simple.

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., is an author and keynote speaker who addresses association, government, and business audiences around the world. Carol is the author of 10 business books. Her latest is THE NONVERBAL ADVANTAGE - Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work.

25 February 2009

Start Up the Risk Takers

It seems that Thomas L. Friedman, the economist and author of The World is Flat, agrees with the premise in my 21 December blog post on bailing out the auto industry. In his op ed in the New York Times published on 21 Feb 2009, Mr. Friedman suggested that it would be better to invest this money in startups than with the zombie auto industry. Great minds think alike (or he read this blog first).

For his column please see: Start Up The Risk-Takers

12 February 2009

Bring on The Entrepreneurs - It's Time!

The difference between the great and good societies and the regressing, deteriorating societies is largely in terms of the entrepreneurial opportunity and the number of such people in the society. I think everyone would agree that the most valuable 100 people to bring into a deteriorating society would not be 100 chemists, or politicians, or professors, or engineers, but rather 100 entrepreneurs.

Abraham Maslow

Seems like its high time to bring in the entrepreneurs in America!

22 January 2009

Business Debriefing

Many years ago, I became acquainted with the CEO of a storied software publisher. Bill Goodhew had recently taken over as CEO of Peachtree Software in a management buy-out. While Peachtree had the pedigree of being one of (if not) the first personal computer based accounting software packages, it had never made a profit. Peachtree was sold to Management Science America (MSA), an early mainframe software company, and during their tenure as owners, the division still did not make any money. Bill and his management team took it over, drastically reduced the price of the software, and marketed it predominantly using direct response advertising.

While that seemed very extraordinary at the time, Bill filled me in on his seemingly simple strategy. He selected three different advertising placements, all with coded responses, so he always knew which was producing the results. He continued these for some set period of time and then would pick the one that worked the best and double its frequency. The one that was the worst, he discontinued. And the other, he continued as it was. He also added one more publication and tried that.
Interestingly enough, using this strategy and the much lower price, Peachtree’s owner-management team made money for the first time in the company’s history. Bill made it very clear that he was no marketing genius. In fact, Bill seldom guessed correctly in advance which advertising placement would work. However, after receiving the results, he was in a perfect position to learn and adjust.

The lesson I learned from Bill’s strategy expanded well beyond advertising and marketing. What this taught me was the value of feedback. Learn & Adjust - that idea has lived with me for the several decades since our encounter.

Every business process can benefit from this concept of learn & adjust. None of us is smart enough to predict the actual results of our actions. But assuming we have a clear and available way to listen to the results of our actions, treat them as objective data – free from our personal prejudices, and be willing to act and adjust our behavior based upon this data, we can create learning systems that create impeccable institutional knowledge that can be shared within our organizations.

The US Air Force uses Stealth Debriefing sessions after every sortie. Immediately after a flight, the pilots debrief in an objective and selfless manner. They learn and adjust from these sessions so that they can institutionalize better practices in their very next encounter. As the Air Force puts it, for them it’s a matter of pure survival.

In business we usually survive multiple mistakes. But the best organizations are compulsive about feedback and learning processes in everything they do. I have participated in great sales organizations that use debriefs as a critical part of their process. After each sales call, the sales person and her team, get together to discuss what went right and what went wrong. These sessions enable the team to determine what is working and what is not, enabling them to hone in on their sales pitches in their very next call.

Seems pretty simple? Yet there are all too few organizations that institutionalize this type of behavior. Meetings occur without any summary of the results. Business decisions get made without the benefit of any recorded feedback. Marketing dollars get spent, without any clue as to their effectiveness. In today’s economically stressful times, using this simple (and cheap) process to immediately improve what we do, every time we do it, is long overdue.