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 | admin
By Frank J. Rich
Potential is one of those oft-quoted terms used to express the opportunity in someone or the future of some thing, such as a business venture. It is usually followed by a concern that reaching that potential requires something yet to form. Potential, it appears, has a dark side. Perhaps, it is because so few of us know how to measure it.
In simple terms, potential is the “likelihood of doing or becoming something in the future.” As it applies to business, we see new products, services, capital improvements, businesses, and personnel decisions, for their potential to be profitable. NPV (Net Present Value), IRR (Internal Rate of Return), and other calculations are used to help measure the “potential” success of these things. But like most things, we have less than perfect knowledge about them and proceed with certain “reasonable” assumptions in place. Good business sense, a knack for judging people, education, and experience all combine to reduce the risk of poor decision making. But, as you might imagine, the opportunity in “potential” begs for serious efforts at measuring it. One such measurement device is called Five Forces Analysis (M. Porter), and means to focus attention on a common experience to achieve very practical results—the kind that seem to have a greater “potential” for success. Here’s how it works:
Five Forces Analysis assumes that there are five important forces that determine competitive power in a situation—supplier and buyer power, competitive rivalry, and the threats of substitution and new entries. Each locus provides an opportunity to look carefully at the fundamental elements of any business venture. A review of these practical (common) experiences provides unusual acuity in measuring the potential of most ventures.
Supplier Power, or how easy is it for suppliers to drive up prices. This is measured by the number of suppliers of each key input (of your product or service), the uniqueness of their product or service, their strength and control over you, the cost of switching from one to another, and so on. The fewer the supplier choices you have, and the more you need suppliers’ help, the more powerful your suppliers become.
Buyer Power, or how easy it is for buyers to drive down prices. Again, this is driven by the number of buyers, the importance of each individual buyer to your business, the cost to them of switching from your products and services to those of someone else, and so on. If you deal with a few powerful buyers, they are often able to dictate terms to you
Competitive Rivalry, or the number and capability of your competitors. If you have many competitors, and they offer equally attractive products and services, then you’ll most likely have little power to operate freely in the marketplace. If suppliers and buyers don’t get a good deal from you, they’ll go elsewhere. This is often the scenario created by poor customer service. When a company fails to measure, specifically, its success at satisfying customer requirements, it is sitting on a time bomb. When its customers become aware of an alternative they bolt to another supplier. On the other hand, if no others can do what you do, then you are dealing with the market from a position of strength.
Threat of Substitution, or the ability of your customers to find a different way of doing what you do. For all businesses the greatest source of competition is the alternative use of the same resources. If substitution is easy and viable, this weakens your power to influence the buying decisions of your customers.
Threat of New Entry, or the ability of others to enter your market. If it costs little in time or money to enter your market and compete effectively, if there are few economies of scale in place, or if you have little protection for your key technologies, then new competitors can quickly enter your market and weaken your position. If you have strong and durable barriers to entry, then you can preserve a favorable position and take fair advantage of it. This is why it is imperative for companies to invest in technology.
Begin by checking the factors above for the size and effect of the force noted above. For example, use a single “+” sign for a force moderately in your favor, or “–” for a force strongly against you. Finally, assess your particular situation in light of the strengths and weaknesses you have noted in each of the areas above. Think through how each affects your “position” and “potential” for achieving the goals you set. The tally will help you see what changes are needed to increase your power with respect to each force.
The Porter method is a useful tool to help measure “potential” and to determine the balance of power in your industry. It is not a perfect predictor of these, but an effective tool in the effort to prepare a favorable market model for yourself and your company. Discovery is often the means to greater success, and not surprisingly, great fun.
July 20, 2018 | admin
By Frank J. Rich
Few of us would accept that we are average, even though in polite company we might incline the lesser state. The linguistic artifice costs us little. But less is no achievement for most, so when our “roles” performance is at issue—worker, parent, friend, sibling—“average” is anything but how we wish to be seen. In fact, our tender psyche relies so heavily on the Self-Image—how we think others think we see ourselves—that less in the eyes of others often brings out the defensive in us.
Here, we are not talking about the “meaning” in the turn-of-phrase that ends in “s,” as in living beyond your means. That is mere “Kentucky Windage” in the aim to consider the “pitch” in our approach to the workplace and its essential role in performance improvement. Here, pitch is defined as the level of intensity, or the highness or lowness of something. In this vein, “mean,” the measure of value in a set or collection of elements classed together, is manifest in how we dispatch ourselves in the workplace. Simply, we are propelled in a sense, by the heart, mind, body, and soul in our work, and by this “set” of elements form the model of achievement that is uniquely ours.
The heart in our effort is more commonly our attitude, that element of intangible behavior that either tilts us forward or holds us back. We are most often considered for our skills, even evaluated for advancement based on “what” we can do. But what we know compared to what we do not know is so wide a gap that the measure of the latter surrounds us. Skills matter, but attitude—good and bad—is the primary reason for performance success. We might tolerate a poor attitude in some, in favor of unusual skills in them, but we seldom choose to align ourselves with them. Given the choice between the dour and the dirigible that floats on air, we seek the latter.
The mind in the holistic view is the element that enables a person to be aware of the world and his experiences, to think, and to feel, the faculty of consciousness and thought. When used more fully it goes beyond the mere intellect that facilitates learning. It is a rainbow spectrum of awareness that can manage both the simplest of things and the complex as easily. It is less the “shift register” in a computer that stores data for rationalizing at each clock cycle; it is rather the determiner of all function, the thinking and doing planner that causes things to happen.
The body is the bidder of all things. It is the toolbox at our disposal. We conceive an action in the mind, prepare our emotional and mental state in the heart, and set the body to work. It moves us from place to place, drives the car. It picks and places things, and even works to recondition itself for those who put it to exercise. It can take the form of love or war, revealing passion and vehemence. Without the “body” we might only think and feel, but never touch, taste, hear, or see color.
The soul in the context of the workplace is the purpose in our effort, as tied to our identity. We may think our purpose in words and images and craft our identity in some measure of performance, but combined they present the meaning in what we do. The soul in our work drives us to fulfillment, that highest of needs that is the end in all endeavors. Our contributions are made ready by heart, mind, and body, but it is the soul in our work that uniquely qualifies us.
If I have your attention after this brief journey through the “looking glass” may I ask you the question above? Are you working “beyond your mean”? And, if not, why not?
The workplace is assumedly competitive, even more so today. How then might one distinguish himself among eager others? It may be that we only do what we know how to do. The sound of it is a death knell to achievement. Clearly, we must go beyond our “mean,” that average performance that makes lemmings of us too easily. But without the collective movement of our faculties we are fated to crawl while others dance. Somehow, we must find it in ourselves to go beyond our education, where in the words of Albert Einstein “learning begins.”
The heart, mind, body, and soul may be a good place to start. It slows the spirit and concentrates our efforts on real work, progress. In the end, we’ll have avoided Alice’s dilemma, having moved so fast only to find ourselves in the same place.
July 13, 2018 | admin
By Frank J. Rich
Much of the tension in marketing is around words; which ones are used, for what reasons, how they combine, and to what end. Search appears to have taken over our lives; it is near impossible to acquire information without it. That is, watching a game of cricket reveals neither the thinking nor rules of the game. Indeed, how would we perform a search without words?
In forming today’s advertising model words are the fulcrum elements in the drive to results. Though often digital in their application, words are formed of analog processes—sight, sound, feel, and context or angularity. We are analog people, given to preparing everything we do from a “backbone” that is uniquely analog.
In fact, some 70 percent of searches are driven by some sort of offline media influence—originating in the thought that becomes behavior. The search words we use are most often (70 percent) misaligned with the thing we seek, and as often, misspelled. It’s a wonder how a search ever delivers a productive result. But it does; largely because algorithms that combine words, which represent thought, are borrowing from bits of a vast store of information indexed (in words) to form a model of the search. The more “words,” increasingly more relative to the unique behavior of the searcher in the database, the more likely a good result. Such an outcome satisfies the two key elements of an effective market exchange—relationship and a good customer experience.
It is said that we learn more about a person by what he writes than what he says. It is confirmed in my experience. Thoughtful moments, on paper, take more time and care to express, revealing meaning in both nuance and one’s logical train of thought. Not coincidentally, search requires attention to the method—that is, if we hope to find a productive end. Searches that lead to extraneous or oblique information fail to satisfy the goal. Such obliquity is the result in 70 percent of searches, though even these inform the gift of internet search—a pattern of behavior.
The phrase that words form, in search, does its job increasingly as data accumulate, and the pattern of consumers emerges. The words, it would seem, matter greatly. Now as before, the formation of our words brings us closer to the achievement of our goals.
Interestingly, the majority of impressions that influence search are found offline, as noted above. We are engaged by our senses in finding our direction and driving us to a goal satisfied. Though the keyboard may not appear to deliver a “sense” of one’s desires as their fingers walk across it in forming words and phrases, few would admit that setting a computer to the task of one’s bidding is less than an intuitive digitation of the mind’s purpose in that moment. Fewer still can learn while looking over the shoulder of helpful others fingering a keyboard. Doing delivers far better results.
As we travel through time, it is our senses that interact with the world around us—an analog world that forms impressions in our minds, words on our tongues, and the behavior that follows. Without the words—especially in a digital world—little of behavior is formed. No less, spoke N. Scott Momaday … “To be careless in the presence of words is to violate a fundamental morality.”
July 6, 2018 | admin
By Frank J. Rich
Business and life have a tendency to confront us with the reality of our condition—good or bad. Ultimately, we are revealed for who we are no matter how hard we try to conceal it. The pattern of behavior that characterizes each of us is more often some part the person we don’t like and some part the one we do. Strangely, the objective view of oneself is lost in the mix.
The workaday world requires a heads-down approach at times. Much of what gets done is done by an individual in time he alone commands for its completion. That we are capable of processing (completely) only one thing at a time forms the biochemical predisposition of both our limitations and our opportunities. Objectivity, were it truly the vaunted mantle of more than our “ideal image,” would not so easily be sacrificed for our typical expressions of emotion and thought, the subjective view that produces most decisions.
Business leaders are most often viewed as those who see things clearly, with narrow focus, and who can do the things that deliver opportunity for stakeholders. The quality displayed is often portrayed as a “hard driving man.” Not coincidentally, a number of women CEOs I’ve worked with had the steel of nails in their approach that was easily a match for the Jack Welches of the world (former CEO of General Electric). The practice is to “mark and move on”; the tracking of a productive person.
Business owners and leaders are equals in their fervor over enterprise, a dyad matched by Adam Smith’s economic foundation stones, as told in the first pages of The Wealth of Nations.
The annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessities and conveniences of life which it annually consumes, and which consists always either in the immediate produce of that labour, or what is purchased from that produce from other nations.
According therefore, as this produce, or what is purchased with it, bears a greater or smaller proportion to the number of those who are to consume it, the nation will be better or worse supplied with all the necessities and conveniences for which it has occasion.
But this proportion in every nation must be regulated by two different circumstances; first by the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which its labour is generally applied, and, secondly, by the proportion between the number of those who are employed in useful labour, and that of those who are not so employed. Whatever be the soil, climate, or extent of territory of any particular nation, the abundance or scantiness of its annual supply must, in that particular situation, depend on those circumstances.
The abundance or scantiness of this supply too seems to depend more upon the former of those two circumstances than upon the latter.
Few of that era, or this, considered economic pari passu with growth of the state, especially among the effulgent of the day, Karl Marx notwithstanding. By the mark of Smith’s pen commerce has gained the energy for an enterprise mindset, and no science or literature or math has equaled its effect on the world, no less capitalism. But Smith’s assertion that labor is the font of all that is produced rings true. We are people first, then the engineers of all else.
June 29, 2018 | admin
By Frank J. Rich
So many interviewers make this issue the primary goal in determining the suitability of candidates. The post-interview summary often sounds like this: “Likeable, easy going, good skills, but talks in the first person singular too much to be a team player.” Or, “He has a spotty work experience.” Is it because he’s not serious about his work?
When in talks with employees, do you have the view that they are doing all they can do to achieve “agreed upon” goals? If not, what do you conclude? Is he taking responsibility for the “complete task” that’s missing?
Enterprise organizations need the best from stakeholders every day. When disengaged—54 percent of employees—the meaning and the joy in work are hard to find. Uninvested employees are indifferent about the work they do and the value of it to them. It’s a common concern since roughly 85 percent of the workforce dislikes their jobs.
Least-resistance oriented, most people find their lowest level of contribution—just enough to get by. It’s a condition just short of complacency for most, though some move quickly to actively disengage—17 percent of the workforce. Armed with this information, how do we determine whom among candidates is serious about his work? The trick may be in developing a good sense of what it feels and sounds like to be actively engaged in meaningful work; the goal of all serious workers. Consider the answers to the following question:
Describe what it means to be serious about your work.
Candidate A: “I’m very serious about my work. I always studied hard when in college, and arrived at work promptly at my first job. I work hard and do everything that is asked of me. I know that this job, like most others, is not 9-5, and I always give 110 percent. I take my work very seriously.”
Candidate B: “To be serious about work means growing a greater sense of the whole than just an understanding of the task at hand. I think it requires that I take responsibility for the success of the team, the individual team players, and the goals of the organization. I think when people do that, they enjoy their work more and are able to make a more valuable contribution to the organization. Encouraging those around me to do their best makes me better and conditions the work with real purpose. I think that is what it means to be serious about your work.”
Which of these candidates has demonstrated an understanding of the meaning in being serious about one’s work? Candidate A’s answer is more common than B’s answer by 10:1. Surprised? Yet, the only modeling apparent in the answers above is in candidate B’s words. Clearly, the candidate is prepared by the thinking that preceded them.
The opportunity in the work we do is prepared in us. If it truly is not in your organization, if the culture is predatory in nature, then move on. But in most organizations, it is not opportunity that’s missing but the willingness to invest fully in the work we do. To make a difference is easy; just give of yourself by an internal standard, not the one by which others measure themselves. Go beyond the task to complete the job. Few do; a difference maker in successful individual effort. Everyone is gifted, but some don’t open the package.
June 21, 2018 | admin
by Frank J. Rich
Contemplations may be the issue of the contemplative, those given to time alone and solitary activity. For these the imagination grows with available time. Most have their place—the shower, a comfortable chair, the “hours after the hours,” walks to nowhere, the littoral gazing across the sea. For others, it may be the opportunity in a singular chore or enchantment that works to separate us from the rest of everything for those moments of reflection, imagining, and the forecasts that raise the spirit. They are the times when plans form, or the anxiety that attends them wafts away as perspective grows; even routines—cooking, cleaning house, washing the car, or painting a fence—that ask only our time and little thought to achieve it.
Not unlike so many that find their way to a place untouched by others, in stolen moments, I am at peace riding a mower. The practice is an imperative for any with property to mend and care for, listening for the cadence that makes measured turns and speeds second nature, until contemplations take the wheel. The activity is at once mindless and mindful, its near-naked cousin able to occupy time, space, and matter simultaneously. Einstein and Rosenthal made math of the artifice, while the rest have simply fallen into its gravitational sleep without thinking.
This gait has no equal; it is mine alone—the same, I imagine, for you. I see new ventures, alternative social solutions, a greater sense of my investment in others, the unique ways the creator has knit me, the model of construction or repair that has needed more skill than I own. Time for all things is suddenly available to me. I consider song, literature—largely my own—kitchen creations, the God of our world, how to do the impossible like bringing two parties together. All things may come into view—TV series, high school memories, mother’s words, gravity, ways to encourage new customers to local shops and craftsmen.
It’s summer, the season of growth—a warning for some to take stock, for others a time to consider the simple world around us. These are the common things—the gratification in a freshly cut, lush lawn, the character of breezes, warm, moist, even warning of storms ahead, and homegrown tomatoes. No other season can produce them, not even Amazon can cause them to appear at your doorstep. Little else is so cherished than a gift of them to neighbors yet unfolded to seasonal joys.
Kierkegaard claimed “I have walked myself into my best thoughts.” Rousseau asserted “my mind works only with my legs.” Thoreau called walking “a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us,” to reclaim the holy land of deliberation and imagination. Eric Klinger, and other psychologists, suggest that this “daydreaming and fantasizing” is a “reminder mechanism” that helps to separate oneself from busyness, thus keeping “larger agenda fresher in mind.” It’s a time to let the “adaptive unconscious” take control of the wheel, when “feeling” becomes the only form of self-reliance.
Today I’ll take a swim in a nearby lake, listen for the sounds and song of it, and try to be still for the longest time busyness allows. I hope to see you there.
June 15, 2018 | admin