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ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich




It is better to set our aim too high and miss it than to set it too low and hit it, or so said Michelangelo. If organizations are the model of “results in the making,” the propitiation of good plans and execution, it is likely that audacious goals set the mood in them. In fact, it is seldom that anything but “bold moves” will affect the marketplace. Yet, few have the “pluck” to attempt them.

“Pluck” is variously defined as courage or resolution in the face of difficulties. We see it in the decisive and steely resolve of “authentic leaders” everywhere, and in all those who lead successful “any-things.” They include those who raise good families, who go to work each day with a purpose beyond oneself in mind, and who consider that to “affect others for the good” delivers the best results.

In this political season what would Aristotle say to those on the podium about how to persuade? He would say that, aside from “tortures, depositions, and the like,” there are only three ways: “logos, pathos, and ethos.” In simple terms that means, logic, emotion, and character. Put it all together, and you get a reasonable argument, passionately made, by a person you trust. Add “pluck” and you have a compelling package of persuasion.

But what does this have to do with the ROI in building successful organizations? Everything!

In the weeks before the 2008 general election we were introduced to Sarah Palin, a relative unknown, until she was drafted as the vice presidential running mate of John McCain. She made a good impression on America with a clear mind, cleverness, and plain-speaking honesty. She came across as being a “regular person”— a devoted family member, the mother of a special needs child, a passionate believer in country and the hope in its people. She also had “pluck,” that innate confidence in herself that spells a self-assurance and belief system of persuasive value. And, it appears she was successful at affecting others by it. The polls show that America responded in kind.

Sarah Palin is not alone in possessing this all-important ingredient of authentic leaders, revealed in quiet moments by their work and louder by the powerful phrase of action it communicates. Gandhi had it; so too, George Washington and Harry Truman. Hillary Clinton is among those with “pluck,”as was Julia Child and Vince Lombardi. They all had it; they all exerted a persuasive energy that compelled others to greatness on some plane.

John Adams had “pluck.” Known for his acerbic wit and incisive style, he would regularly corral his brethren by steely summary statements of purpose and insight. Among them was the assertion that “the Constitution of the United States is meant for a moral and religious people, and would not work for any other kind.” That’s “pluck,” and not coincidentally, borne out in America’s experience.

The work of organizations — non-profit and commercial alike — requires the best of all to achieve their goals. It requires that we take risks, having the courage to do so with confidence, courage born of self-assurance and belief in the purpose and ideals of our organizations. It requires “pluck.”

Unlike Plato, Aristotle’s mentor, who believed in logos as the only legitimate way to win friends and influence people, Aristotle was willing to look beyond “strictly rational appeals.” Pathos allowed that emotional appeals persuade as well. Thus he wrote: “Style makes a matter more persuasive.” Finally, he wrote: “Character contains almost the strongest proof of all.” Simply, it matters “who” is trying to persuade us. If the person trying to influence us shows “common sense, virtue, and goodwill,” we are more likely to trust in him.

We have learned that “peoples,” those joined with a common goal, have a conservative ethic. While they generally allow the differences in others — a kind of inner security that encourages uniqueness — they hold to a personal ideal that respects integrity, consistent behavior, and decency. They are not anarchists, despite the freedom to speak out about anything of concern. Nor are they pleased to see their own cobbled by drug abuse, unwed pregnancies, or the egregious use of power that corrupts organizations. Ultimately, they forgive most things — a conservative nature.

In forming a “better union” with others it is necessary to exhibit the character that Aristotle extols above. At times it takes courage to do so; it takes “pluck.” If we are to win the battle, in organizations, in government, in life, we do well to form these character traits. We do well to find the heart in matters, as spoken by Theodore Roosevelt, a man of considerable pluck.

Courage, hard work, self-mastery, and intelligent effort are all essential to successful life. Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.




September 7, 2018 |

Difficult People


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



OK, hands up out there! How many of you have chosen not to take action with a difficult person when you knew it was needed? How many have reacted to another in an angry or non-constructive way? You with your head down—why isn’t your hand up?

Everyone has done both of these things at one time or another. There’s no shame in it. However, if we consistently repeat the same mistakes over and over and end up paying the cost by becoming a victim, we’ve chosen the path to unfulfillment.

So, why do we do it? Why do we choose to be victims? And why is it important to know why we make this choice? Simply, if we don’t know what it is about “difficult people” that causes us to make a poor decision, it isn’t likely we’ll be able to grow out of the “victim” disorder. If we don’t change, we are going to be a consistent victim.

There are a number of reasons why people make bad decisions, avoid taking action, or take inappropriate action. Most have to do with avoidance, while the last is biological and has to do with our initial gut reaction to difficult people and our feelings of threat. Let’s take a look.

Low Self-awareness

If you lack self-awareness (i.e. you don’t know what your own reactions mean and why they occur), you are not likely to have success with difficult people. Not coincidentally, the first step in learning to deal with difficult people is to examine oneself.

It’s important that you look at yourself to identify which of the reasons apply to you. When you are aware of the reasons you choose to be a victim, you will be better prepared to make better, more rational decisions.

An impediment to awareness is “denial.” Have you ever said to yourself, “I can’t believe he said that?” It is likely that you have. What we are saying in those words is that our expectation of another does not match well with their actual behavior. One reason we fail to take action with difficult people is we don’t expect them to be difficult. We are caught “off guard.” Most normal people don’t go through life looking for trouble. But when it appears, unexpectedly, such as in outrageous outbursts, we have a tendency to freeze like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. We’re at a loss for words, almost disbelieving what is plainly in sight. We are incredulous over it.

Not only can we freeze up in such moments, but some difficult behavior is so outlandish that we remain stunned by it well after the fact, or we deny it or excuse it as an aberration.


Believe it! Even the best of people do difficult, hurtful, and unpleasant things to others. Don’t pretend it isn’t happening. If you do, it may just get worse. We are, each of us, capable of the worst behavior imaginable. What keeps us from it varies—societal pressure, the law, moral suasion, inherent goodness, a positive life experience that recommends it, etc. Whatever works to bring each individual under self-control must be as apparent and available as a hammer to drive a nail.

Are you in denial? If so, recognize that people do hurtful, difficult things and that they are indeed real and are happening. To deny what is happening only serves to make the situation worse.


Even when we recognize that someone is being nasty, difficult or unpleasant, we may be reluctant to act because we fear getting involved. Or perhaps, you know that difficult person who argues about everything, and you are tired of him. We think, “If I say something, it’s just going to make matters worse.”

At times, you’d be right. There are times when making something of another’s rage is not only inconvenient, but also dangerous. Consider road rage. If we stop (or speed up) to confront another’s poor behavior on the road we might find ourselves on the receiving end of a weapon in the hands of a fool. The larger picture renders the issue trivial in most road rage incidents, so we go on our way hoping the angry “other” will cool down before hurting someone.

There has to be a happy medium here. We don’t want to jump on every little thing, but we must be prepared to confront real issues of poor behavior. We deserve better, and “help” is what the miscreant needs most. However, if we choose to continually ignore such abuse, we paint ourselves as victims.

Recognize that dealing with a difficult person in a constructive way doesn’t have to mean getting into an argument or a confrontation. Managers must be willing to make people accountable, and not only to agreed upon goals. We work with people, and their willingness and cooperation is necessary to achievement. We need to work at not allowing our dread of confrontation to keep us from taking control of difficult situations.

Bad Cop

Another reason people tend to wait too long to intervene with difficult people has to do with not wanting to come across as the “heavy.” This promotes a poor self-image, something we humans avoid like the plague. This is particularly true of managers who are sensitive to the need to use power sparingly in today’s workplace.

Get over it! We get paid to manage—so manage. Whether it’s someone not doing a good job or interfering with the work of others, or someone polluting the work environment, managers, indeed all stakeholders, have a responsibility to co-workers to act when necessary. You are, in effect, charged with ensuring the welfare of those in your care.

They’ll Do It

There is a tendency in organizations to think that the really tough problems ought to be solved by “them.” It is the great lie in all societies—commercial and familial. We expect it of our politicians, our teachers, our pastors, our bosses, and our parents. Perhaps, this is why 85% of families and 70% of organizations are deemed dysfunctional. If we allow one employee to make life difficult for another, there’s a fair chance that the “victim” will come to blame us, even though we aren’t directly involved. As managers and leaders, we are ultimately responsible for results—at all levels of participation.

Just as “intervening” need not bring about confrontation, stepping in need not make us the bad guys. There is something of value at stake for all involved; reasonable people can come quickly to an understanding of it.

Fight or Flight

The final underlying reason for mishandling difficult situations is the “fight or flight” phenomenon. It’s biological—all animals have it. It works this way; when we are threatened, our bodies react by sending hormones and neurological messages to prepare it to either run away (escape or take flight), or to stand and fight.

It’s these chemical changes in our bodies that cause things like sweating, elevated heart rate, or even shaking during or after perceived danger.

Unfortunately, those same chemical changes, while allowing us to make a quick escape, or a fight of it, also cause quick and destructive verbal responses. So, there’s actually a biological reason why you might speak or react too quickly when dealing with a difficult person.

Fortunately, we can choose not to be slaves to the “flight or flight” thing. We can learn to control ourselves, and even to react less aggressively when in difficult situations. Perhaps, what is most helpful is to accept that the term “difficult people” describes us all, at times. Try first to defend that person’s position, then consider what to do about his behavior. The exercise may give you the empathy necessary to clearing most misunderstandings, and the path to appropriate behavioral modifications.

August 31, 2018 |

Trust—Credibility’s Root


ROI by Frank J. Rich









The ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust with all stakeholders—customers, business partners, investors, and co-workers—is the single most important leadership competency. If Stephen Covey Jr., of Franklin Covey, is correct in this conclusion, most organizations have work to do and more to learn in their efforts to succeed.

Trust may simply mean that we have confidence in something, a sense of security that it or someone will do what we expect of it/him. Oddly, a lack of trust—distrust—carries the same expectations as trust. We will either invest ourselves in confidence or caution. We expect trust to encourage confidence, and distrust to encourage caution.

Think of someone you have a high trust in. Describe the relationship; how well do you communicate; how quickly do things get done; how much do you enjoy the relationship?

Now think of someone you have a low-trust relationship with. Describe this relationship. How does it feel; how are the communications between you? The difference between the two is palpable. What we try to avoid is a hint of suspicion. Why? Because the moment it is felt, everything that follows is likely to be tainted.

We hear often that “it is very difficult for a micro manager to change.” Why so difficult? Because breaking habits requires that we replace them with better ones. And then only if we recognize the problem in our behavior—we do not solve problems we don’t have!

And how would we consider, even embrace, another’s changed behavior? TRUST, and the decision to do so is the only lasting way. Everything else is just a conditional and short-term method. Let’s pause to consider why this is so today, in the age of postmodernism.

Roughly between 1960 and 1990 postmodernism emerged as a cultural phenomenon, given impetus largely by the advent of the information age. If the factory is the symbol of the industrial age, the computer may be the symbol of the information age that tracks the spread of postmodernism.

Postmodernism is complex and contradictory in some ways, but most see it as rejecting most of the fundamental intellectual pillars of modern Western civilization. At a minimum, postmodernism regards many important principles, methods, or ideas characteristic of modern Western culture as obsolete and illegitimate. In practical terms postmodernism represents a rejection of the philosophy that has characterized Western thought since the beginning. Let’s take a brief look.


The Route to Postmodernism

Ethical Theism Modernism Postmodernism



Truth has been revealed to men and women by God. Truth can be discovered by reason and logical argumentation. Truth does not exist objectively; it is a product of a person’s culture.
Human Identity Humans are both spiritual and material   beings, created in God’s image but fallen because of sin. Humans are rational, not spiritual beings who can define their existence according to what their senses perceive. Humans are primarily social beings, products of their culture and environment.
The World God is the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of His earth, and has instructed humans to subdue it and care for it. Humans can and should conquer the earth and all its mysteries. Life on earth is fragile and the “Enlightenment model of human conquest of nature … must quickly give way to a new attitude of cooperation with the earth.”
Thought & Language Reason “can disclose truth about reality, but faith and revelation are also needed.” For answers and understanding about life and the world around us, people should rely only on rational discovery through the scientific method and reject the belief in the supernatural. Thinking is a “social construct,” language is arbitrary, and there is no universal truth beyond culture.
Human Progress Human history is not progressing but awaiting deliverance. Human progress through science and reason is inevitable. Things are not getting better; besides, progress is an oppressive Western concept.


The information age has produced so many more “truths” than we have known before. The sheer number of them (revealed) is enough to cause one to freeze in his investigation of them. Under such conditions the truth is made and not found. This is an extraordinary idea, and one that suggests a substitute for it (the truth) in situational ethics. In this vein, if yours are formed (made) of your cultural bias, or conditions, it is no less reality than another’s.

This is because there is no metanarrative or grand story that can account for all reality— no story big enough and meaningful enough to pull together philosophy and research and politics and art, relate them to one another, and give them a unifying sense of direction. Such are the stories of God’s covenant with the nation Israel, the Marxist story of class conflict and revolution, and the Enlightenment’s story of intellectual progress.

What’s that got to do with trust, you might be asking? A great deal, as it turns out. Our society, not just here in the U.S., but the world over, is suffering a crisis of trust. Every societal institution—government, media, business, health care, religion, home—is suffering a paucity of trust. Significantly lower than a generation ago, in the U.S., for instance, a 2005 Harris poll revealed that 22% of those surveyed tend to trust the media, 8% trust political parties, 27% trust the government, and 12% trust big business.

In a study by British sociologist David Halpern, only 34% of Americans believe that “other” people can be trusted. In Latin America the number is 23%; and in Africa the number is just 18%. In Great Britain the number is 29%, down from 60% four decades ago. We are no longer a trusting people. In fact, with the possible exception of the 60s in America, love has never been a popular movement in the world.

Can the postmodernists be that wrong when they claim that the truth we make is more reality than the truth we find?

On the organizational front it’s much the same story:

  • 51% of employees have trust and confidence in senior management.
  • 36% believe their leaders act with honesty and integrity.
  • In the last 18 months 76% of employees have observed illegal or unethical conduct on the job—conduct, which, if exposed, would seriously violate the public trust, if not the law.

What about the personal level? Consider that:

  • The #1 reason people leave their jobs is a bad relationship with their boss.
  • One of every two marriages ends in divorce.

Relationships—of all kinds—are built on and sustained by trust. They fail from the absence of it!

The percentage of students who cheated to improve their odds of getting into graduate school may be a clear indication of whom you are being led by.

  • Liberal arts students — 43%
  • Educations students —  52%
  • Medical students — 63%
  • Law students — 63%
  • Business students — 75%

How does it make you feel to know that the doctor who’s going to operate on you cheated in school? Or that there is a 75% chance that the company you’re going to work for is led by someone who didn’t consider honesty important? Further, that 75% of MBAs were willing to understate expenses that would cut into profits; and worse, that minimum-security prisoners scored as high as MBA students on their ethical dilemma exams.

Talk about a crisis of trust!

The economics of trust are simple:



So what must we do to reverse the trend? We must learn to TRUST; to see, talk, and act, in ways that establish, grow, extend, and restore trust … with all stakeholders.

It’s up to us, each of us, to make a difference in an untrusting world. But we won’t solve a problem we don’t have; so, first we must believe that there is value in doing just that. Most don’t!

August 24, 2018 |

Influencers: The Devil’s in the Data


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



Influence over others is among the most important assets of a leader—a bold statement in a world preoccupied with individual rights. With influence a leader can implement new initiatives, increase efficiency, and effectively encourage productivity and change. But with so much information inundating the workplace, whose influence is being felt? Perhaps wisdom concedes to brute force in this case, but what is a knowledge worker to do? How do we regain our influence as leaders in a maelstrom of data? “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” is the answer.

The secret lies in the data stream, the information we are exposed to daily, according to Ron McMillan and David Maxfield in their book, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything. “The more information people are exposed to, the more they assume that information is correct and give it priority,” they concluded.

The idea naturally follows the law of mental equivalency, which suggests that our thoughts objectify our behavior. For example, when we read over and over that nuclear power generation is bad (too risky to tolerate), we begin to believe that it must be so because “everyone says so.” Yet, in this time of escalating fuel prices, nuclear power is revealed as a cleaner, less costly, and more efficient power generation system than most others. It is potentially dangerous, but not nearly as risky as riding a bike, which accounts for 700-800 deaths each year.

The data stream, it would appear, has become the overwhelmingly greatest influencer in society. Take this simple test to see how it has affected your thinking.

  • Is someone in the U.S. more likely to die from lung cancer or from a road accident?
  • Is a person more likely to die from tuberculosis or from a fire?
  • Does the English language have more words that begin with the letter “k” or more words that have “k” in the third position?

The Answers…

So, what are the answers and why does it matter? Three times more people die from lung cancer than from road accidents. Twice as many people die from TB than from fires. And, there are twice as many words with “k” in the third position than with “k” in the first.

Most people miss these, even though the rates of occurrence between the pairings aren’t even close. Why is that?

Tversky and Kahneman used these questions to illuminate a judgment strategy they called the availability heuristic. It shows that we judge frequency by recalling a few examples, then noticing how hard they are to bring to mind. Perhaps this contributes to the common use of the term “they” when we cannot find the facts about things. Think of the last few times you’ve heard of someone dying in a car wreck or from lung cancer. If we recall more car wrecks, then we guess they happen more often.

The reason most people get the answers to these particular questions wrong, the authors conclude, “is because our data stream doesn’t reflect reality. If your information comes from newspapers, for example, a typical newspaper has 42 articles about road accidents for every one article about lung cancer. This ‘informational influence’ would lead you to believe more deaths occur from car accidents.”

Consider this tidbit from Knowledge News to illustrate the point.

The basic player in summer heat is, you guessed it, the sun. It must be a lot closer to us in the summer than in the winter, right? Not true.

Actually, with the Earth’s elliptical orbit, we’re closest to the sun in January and farthest from it in July. So the reason we get scorched is not because we’ve cozied up to the celestial furnace. No—summer comes from the tilt of the Earth, which affects the intensity and duration of sunlight we get hit with throughout the year.

Astronomically, Earth’s a little off-kilter, rotating on its axis at an incline, or tilt, of 23.5 degrees. Why the La-Z-Boy position? Scientists think that sometime early on, Earth got absolutely clobbered by a Mars-sized protoplanet in a spectacular collision of worlds. That collision knocked Earth into a tilted rotational axis.

Earth stays in this 23.5-degree tilt no matter where it is in its annual orbit around the sun. In fact, the northern end of the Earth’s tilted axis more or less points toward the same place in space throughout the year—at Polaris, the aptly named North Star. Whichever hemisphere leans toward the sun gets pool parties and picnics. The other hemisphere hauls out parkas.

So why do we think the sun is closer in summer? Because since childhood it’s what most people told us. The data stream rules again.

Similarly, organizations have their own data stream. In the workplace, the data stream is comprised of reports, e-mails, charts, posters, and other information that sets the “mental agenda” of the organization. Not surprisingly, most organizations are clogged with vagrant data, making a coherent message or mental agenda challenging. Additionally, few leaders use their influence over an organization’s data stream to their advantage. This is largely because their messages compete with a barrage of others.

The How To

Research on project execution (by Tversky and Kahneman) corroborates the view that our data stream determines project thinking and actionables. When we leave these to others we lose direction and the usefulness of the data. As above, we also lose touch with the essential activity in our environment and often underestimate its effect on us.

One such study by the authors (Silence Fails) heard senior leaders report that “project managers are sometimes given plans that are nearly impossible to execute, but they didn’t think this potentially fatal problem occurs often, though it is resolved quickly when it does. When surveyed, 85% of project managers confirmed receiving such ‘fact-free’ plans frequently, but only 17% were able to discuss and resolve them quickly, if at all.”

The reason is no mystery; project managers (like so many managers) fear loss of status and support resulting from open discussion of the problem.  So what do they recommend to manage the data stream for more effective use of it? Simply, focus it on the organizational and market elements that produce the greatest return-on-investment. For each organization that may be different. So start with the basics. Set metrics that improve customer satisfaction—on time delivery, anticipating needs, 1:1 follow-up to register satisfaction, giving a little to get more in return. In other words, perfecting the relationship through trust building.

Leaders have a significant influence on employee retention—85% of those who leave a job do so because of a problem with their bosses. Try adding employee retention rates to managers’ files and watch the retention rates go up.

Leaders lead by serving— but with an undirected data stream we leave the leading to others. Start by taking control of the data stream.




August 17, 2018 |

The Most Powerful Tool


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich




Agreement may be the most powerful device known to mankind. Most everything we know is formed of it—treaties between governments, laws within them and contracts of all kinds, marriages, and the terms of life. Even the oddest of partnerships is formed by agreement, such as a nut and bolt, a bottle and cap, a horse and carriage, etc. We’re getting carried away; you see the point.

The logic in agreement reveals “disagreement” at its root. We come together over differences, or no effort could be measured by the process of agreement, or by agreement itself. Most distinct and disparate positions and things must find agreement to coexist. Metal has no natural affinity for plastic, yet they can be bolted together or fused to form a better result for both—one providing unique strength, and the other light weight and color adaptability. The plastic and metal combinations on an automobile are examples, each contributing uniquely to deliver a better result—lighter, more durable, and fuel efficient.

For the most part, agreement produces a better result. It is the purpose in diplomacy, preventing or stalling a bellicose alternative, at least until livable terms can be worked out. Agreement reveals another important element; that is, the desire for harmony. It is, unfortunately, not always accompanied by the will for it, thus leading to strained relationships. Simply, agreement is the forming of relationships… between people and things. It is not only necessary to a world in constant change, but also vital to it.

A more useful way to see agreement is as: 1) establishing joint vision, 2) the end product of an effective conflict-resolution process, or 3) and, as the foundation for success of any new team, partnership or relationship.  This is true whether it is with your business partner, colleagues, work teams, joint ventures, or your company and its employees or customers.

Collaboration, the coordinated activities of people working together, is the foundation of any accomplishment.  Successful collaboration is like dancing; often we have different ideas about the steps in the dance. These differences can lead to greater synergy or to breakdown.  Because agreements define how we coordinate, excellent results depend on clear agreements. The art of crafting effective agreements is the lever that increases the potential for desired outcomes.

There’s an important distinction between agreements for “results” and the familiar “agreements for protection,” which are negotiated from an adversarial perspective. The latter shifts the focus from what you want to create to what can go wrong.  They foster an adversarial climate in new relationships, when you desire collaboration and joint vision.  Protective agreements have diminishing value in our complex transactional milieu. When agreements focus on results our attitude turns decidedly positive. We are no longer looking at what can go wrong, instead, focusing on what are the right results.

The effort at forming agreement is toward building a partnership for performance. This is simply the outcome we hope for, plan for, and the mechanism by which we achieve a win-win-win for employee, employer, and customer. Agreements are necessary to any accountability system—we cannot reasonably expect of another what we have not agreed to. They are also key foundational elements to the measurement of agreed upon goals against performance. They are the glue to high-functioning organizations. And, they encourage a learning attitude, a trust-based environment, creativity, and a “we culture.”

Learning the Art of Agreement

In forming agreements, we must know where we’re headed; what we hope to accomplish by them. This is the intent in agreement, or why it is formed. The process of agreement might take any number of approaches, but all must include the following, beginning with intent or setting goals.

The next step is to define the area(s) of responsibility and the attendant duties in them—the roles of all stakeholders. This is necessary to forming the vital commitment to results that must be made by both parties.

Measurement metrics are next—the things that make agreement less ambiguous and more real.


  • What areas of responsibility do I want to influence?
  • How will I know the job is being done?
  • What will good performance look like on each goal?

Judge the competence of the stakeholder(s) and their commitment. The first helps match the appropriate leadership style to their needs; the latter is the all-important measure of willingness.

Match the leadership style to the needs of the stakeholders whose performance you wish to partner with. A self-reliant achiever, for instance, requires a different leadership style than the disillusioned learner. Poor matching can risk the loss of commitment in stakeholders.

Be certain to put time stamps on expected outcomes; open-ended commitments have little emotional content, resulting in a casual approach that produces a similar outcome.

Agreement is necessary for those whose performance and alignment is productive and secure, as well as for those tangential to the organization. Encouragement is “condition blind,” but it is important to register both the commitment and willingness to improve performance. Without these, no partnership is formed as the parties are unequally yoked, pulling in diverse paths.

The opportunity in agreement is the “like heartedness” that produces extraordinary results. It’s a multiplication effect, and the thing that empowers teams.

August 10, 2018 |

The Carrot and the Stick


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



A life’s journey has a way of imprinting experience. The learned application of its lessons often requires the reflection that cements the meaning in things, and the motivation to employ it. The oft spoken “carrot and stick,” as a motivator, is root to more initiatives than first imagined.

I’ve spent time with horses, the fabled partner in the eponymous expression, whose natural and acquired behavior reveals the design in the idiom. Any that have animals around—dogs, cats, chicken, and livestock—know well the habitual tracking in each that gives insight to human behavior. In the end, we may not be far from instinct in most things we do.

In the workplace, increased productivity is the “striving for” that fuels opportunity and growth for employees. Coupled with profits, the model is a successful blueprint of a simple business ethic. In postwar Europe, the productivity wane was the result of a fading value in productive endeavors. As “The Daily Advertiser” reported in 1948, the economic difficulties facing the continent were the malaise of a workforce easily employed, but less given to productive outcomes. “Productivity has fallen because the compelling incentive to produce has disappeared,” it concluded. Not entirely the fault of plentiful jobs and social service schemes, the era’s worker found little partnership with motivation. There simply was not enough value in it.

The idea in the “carrot and stick” approach was to offer a combination of rewards and punishment to induce good behavior. Its original context named a cart driver dangling a carrot in front of a mule and holding a stick behind it. The mule followed the reward (the carrot), while avoiding the stick behind it, since it feared the punishment of pain, thus moving the cart forward. We may liken it to the psychology of income tax payment. We fear the IRS, but are motivated to deliver a timely tax return each year to put the fear of an audit behind us. It is perhaps why so many overpay their taxes and set up a reward (refund) at tax time.

Bonus incentives are a takeoff on the original model. Promised, but less often realized, the bonus spurs individuals to greater performance (theoretically). It ceases to work when bonus goals are viewed as unrealistic or seldom met by work teams. The punishment is the termination of those who fail to meet goals.

Much of what we do involves a similar effort at motivation. We might excite good behavior in our children with the promise of ice cream, use of the family car to a teenager in return for good grades, a tasty treat for Fido for performing a nifty trick, etc. The root motivator in us all is the self-actualization that fashions rewards—pride in achievement, joy in making another happy by what we do, the thrill in risk taking, etc.

While fear is not a successful long-term motivator, it is in the tissue of most, if not the driving force in the things we do. Fear of failure complicates more lives than the wisdom that “man doesn’t make mistakes, mistakes make the man.” That notwithstanding, most are hard-pressed to employ the discipline that proves results. Few become “expert” at something for the unwillingness to put in the “practice that makes perfect.” How many more start piano lessons than actually develop the everyday skill to enjoy playing the instrument? “Of course, I took piano lessons as a child, didn’t everyone?”

August 3, 2018 |

Models of the Mind …


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



In a recent development session I heard Jim Huling, CEO of Matrix Resources, describe an all too familiar experience. The message in it is emblematic of the bicameral nature of American business—our hope and expectations are often foiled by the disappointments we meet in the marketplace. His talk went something like this:

“… great initiatives are usually formed of a winning strategy that appears to be endowed of all the right stuff. It’s going to lead to greater results than ever achieved before. The grand plan is packaged and presented to stakeholders with passion and conviction, and then summarily applauded by all. As a CEO this is your single best moment, but it is also the moment when your effectiveness starts to decline. Because what really happened is that only about half the people even heard what you said, for both legitimate and other reasons. They’re just anxious to get back to the real work they left waiting on their desks. Of the half that heard the message, only about half of those knew what to do about it. And only about half of them went back to their desks and began to do anything about what they heard. And the saddest reality is, that of the group of those who know what to do and are doing it, only a fraction of them even care—they’re just doing it because it’s their job. It is the translation of the grand plan down to the deepest level of the organization, and the caring of what we do that is the single greatest challenge facing organizations today.”

Many great ideas and initiatives do not become strategic or tactical reality. The reasons are manifold and the subject of countless studies. But what may be common to most of them is the conclusion that alignment is at issue. Let me illustrate.

Outcomes usually obtain from those who both believe in them and themselves, and who are best prepared to achieve the results they seek. I think we would all agree. It is also clear (by the studies) that we are perfectly prepared to achieve the results we are getting. This conclusion can be good or bad, depending on the results we hope for or expect.

Our efforts to achieve may be noble or even the logical extension of our skills and talents but for this one thing—we are not aligned to achieve them. And that spells disappointment and suboptimal results. What is alignment? Just this:

  • Belief in the mission.
  • Well-equipped to manage disappointment.
  • A realistic sense of ourselves, and little in others.
  • Active self-leadership.
  • Strong leadership at the helm.

An in-depth discussion of the ideal group may be instructive, but the simple truth in the matter is that we must construct a model of alignment before we are to succeed. If you happen to walk into an organization with a track record of success, you’ll find alignment easily. However, most of us find ourselves in organizations with great promise, perhaps even high energy, or even talented people who are gathered to accomplish something special. Sadly, only 30% will likely achieve their stated goals. Alignment is the reason.

To build a great organization it is said that we must align people and the organization with meaningful goals. (This is because people are most productive when actively engaged in meaningful work.) Further, that we build an execution culture; that we install a system of accountability, and that we dynamically assess everything we do. Peter Drucker expressed this last tenet as follows: We must be prepared for the abandonment of everything we do.

Why is alignment so difficult? There are many reasons, but they are rooted in the mindset or mental models we possess. We might come easily to the same goals, but our approach varies as widely as the uniqueness in individuals. Sales may be the goal, but in a competitive market customer problems arise. One salesperson promises a collaborative, organization-wide effort at finding the solution, while another offers himself as the way to avoid the bottlenecks in his organization. Both might be effective—one long-term, the other short-term. When confronted with his behavior the second salesperson becomes defensive, scratching his head over why the results don’t justify the means … in another’s mind—his, convinced of this untruth.

In Jim Huling’s story above, only a fraction of those that heard the message and applauded it would do anything productive about it. Their thought models, in this case, were antipodal to the joining of mind and spirit that is necessary to achievement, especially group achievement. These models are often so well ingrained in organizations that it is near impossible to root them out for adjustment. It is the principal reason that merging organizations often apply “the clean sweep” to management in an effort to pare the cost of rebuilding a shaky foundation.

It is for this reason that so many organizations prepare OD (Organizational Development) programs with a focus on ethical foundations like trust, servant leadership, and accountability modeling. It is also why they have refocused hiring efforts on “selection” from “recruitment,” hoping to avoid the churn that casual consideration of a partnership produces.

If execution is the issue, how do we build an execution culture? If no less, it must include clear models of the behavior that leads to agreed-upon outcomes. It is not enough to know where to go; we must also know how best to get there. As thought becomes behavior, so too, outcomes rest on a bed of common and consistent mental models. Preparing the images of how the organization fits its chosen market, indeed its worldview, is becoming more critical every day. Great individual achievement notwithstanding, we are greater by the spirit and mind of cooperation in all things. The Olympic games are a good example of both.

To prepare our minds with successful models requires that we bring them to the surface. We know that unless a goal is openly spoken it is not formed of commitment. Seven percent of New Year’s resolutions attest to this truth. In our efforts to build better organizations— those that increase the chances of market success— we would do well to consider the mind before matters of skill and knowledge.


July 26, 2018 |
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