Tuesday, August 25, 2009

New CBD Informational video

We've created a new video describing the Center for Business Development and what we offer. '

If you have a chance to view it, please give some feedback. The intent is to help in a small way to give prospective tenants to see what we can offer without necessitating them coming into the building.

Managing and Leading

In the August 17th Business Week, the back page article by Henry Mintzberg argues we are 'overled and undermanaged'. [As an aside, the article in the magazine was called "We're Overled and Undermanaged" but online the same article is called "The Best Leadership is Good Management" hmmm!]

He writes that it became fashionable a few years ago to say that Leaders "do the right thing" while managers "do things right" - and that crucially we've been told that Leaders need to be detached from what is going on day-to-day in managing. This detachment resulted in much of our financial crisis, i.e., the heads of banks and investments did not know what was going on, being so caught up in 'leading', and the problems rolled into a giant mess.

It is true that you as the head of a group or business have to have some detachment from the immediate issues at hand. Being too caught up in day to day is sometimes characterized as 'fire fighting' where you are solving immediate problems all day and no time devoted to larger issues.

This detachment (or lack thereof) is not a characteristic of Leadership, rather the defining characteristic of Leadership is to be able to detach from the particular when necessary to understand what is happening over the entire organization. Leading is not standing in front of a PowerPoint with the 5 goals for the year (strategy) or even setting the tactics of a marketing campaign. If anything, leading is creating an environment wherein the organization and its members - employees - can be successful. And a necessary condition of success is good management.

This reminds me that for many years, the most influential movie on managers about leading was the WWII movie, 12 O'clock High, released in 1949. Gregory Peck's character was not detached from the management of his bomber squadron, just the opposite: he flew with them. You might take the opportunity to watch it if you've never seen it!

Finally, I might comment that the back page of Business Week is where Jack Welch's article is placed (on vacation the week of this piece). Jack is often considered one of the best leaders of this generation who oversaw huge and drastic firings of employees, especially at the outset of his being head of GE. How might we view his leadership (or management) in light of the above?

Monday, August 24, 2009

'Flush' with ideas

Last month there was an interesting article about Toto, the Japanese bathroom and kitchen ceramics company in the Economist. Toto is trying to get their fancy lavatories into houses in America - with heated seats, music and 'hiding odor' features!

At the end of the article, it is remarked on Toto's 800 engineers working on new toilets, but that even still "they will have a hard time getting around the biggest obstacle to the use of its fancier lavatories in the West: the lack of electrical sockets in bathrooms."

Toto's President, Kunio Harimoto says that it took Japan 20 years to get this change added to homes, but that they are ready to wait until it develops in America.

What struck me about the article was how often the business ideas (or plans) I am presented depend on 'getting electrical sockets in bathrooms' - that is, some large structural change that a single new startup will be hard pressed to enable.

A startup by its nature has a limited life; it either catches a segment or customer base quickly or it starves. Structural changes take time. If your business idea depends on a major change happening, you will need even more capital and more time - which increases risk. The entrepreneur who started Segway already had made millions before Segway, and it still has not happened yet.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Coping with Millennials


By now you are probably familiar with the term "Millennials" or "Gen Y" - these are young people from about 8-30 years old. If you are not, here are some links:

As I read about this upcoming generation, I am reminded of a comment made by a boss I once had. He said that the new employee Sam, "wanted to start at the top and work his way up".

Part of me is rather unsympathetic to this new generation and thier expectations. But as a business owner, we have to come to grips with them. I could of course hire only people over the age of 30 (inverting the old 60's adage to 'never trust anyone over 30'), and I could sell my products only to older people.

For those who don't want to pursue the above course w e should ask ourselves: what do I need/want from that group of people and how can I get it?

From the employee side, I need to hire the best people I can find. And many of the younger generation have valuable skills that can be useful. First, remember that even within the generation there are outliers - there are young people who won't quit at the first chance to go tubing in Chile. Second, don't forget Joel Spolsky's adage to hire "smart people who get things done". Even if the person in front of you has very different expectations, if you two can negotiate a win-win situation, it could be very productive.

Yet, these different expectations of the younger generation should cause you to ask questions like "is it more important that their body is here from 8-5, or that the work gets done" or "why should my best employees stay working here". I believe that in trying to answer these types of questions, you will be able to better handle all the employees and customers you can gain.

From the customer side, it is much more difficult. Depending on your product or service, you may have a hard time reaching them. If you sell expensive watches, what will be the effect of young people no longer using watches (they use their cell phone to tell the time!) My brother, who is a creative designer, wears interesting watches that are more jewelry or statement than they are watches, since his computer, phone, ipod all tell him the actual time.

You might want to hire 'one of them' to help you market to 'them'. But what happens when she says you need to change the way you are selling your products or marketing or even the products you stock - then what?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Return from Summer Conference

I was at our Summer CareerTech conference this week in Oklahoma City. This brings all the CareerTech system professional staff together for three days of sessions, meetings and networking. Our plenary speaker made an interesting point about education: "The primary aim of education is not to enable students to do well in school but to do well in life outside of school". By this he was remarking on our education systems unfortunate tendency to be more interested in obedience and order than in learning and development.

In considering this comment about education, what came to my mind is we often have processes or procedures or even 'ways of doing things' in our businesses that are more due to internal aspects than have to do with customers - that is - our reason for being.

As always, Seth Godin has a good statement on this, "The only reason to answer the phone when a customer calls is to make the customer happy." We often set procedures such as 'you must answer all customer calls', then not provide any resources or ability for the person answering to actually solve the problem. We lose sight of the reason we have a business is the customer.

You might remember, and it seems to have gone out of our collective consciousness, that there used to be a place in the department store called "Complaints Department" - a window where customers brought their unsatisfactory purchases. One also used to see this as part of a joke in comic strips.

Anyway, the point being is that the Complaints window never actually was able to solve the problem - so it was more a place to vent than anything else.

If we have policies in our organizations that inhibit our being able to sell products and make money, then we are just like schools turning out students good at school but not at life.

In both cases, the results don't justify the outlay. Take the opportunity here at the end of summer to review your procedures - are there places you are teaching your employees to be good students and not good salespeople?