Friday, June 3, 2011

Crossing the Rubicon: No Excuses

An interesting article regarding Steve Jobs and his management style notes that Steve uses a parable to describe the difference between a VP and underlings:

Jobs imagines his garbage regularly not being emptied in his office, and when he asks the janitor why, he gets an excuse: The locks have been changed, and the janitor doesn’t have a key. This is an acceptable excuse coming from someone who empties trash bins for a living. The janitor gets to explain why something went wrong. Senior people do not. “When you’re the janitor,” Jobs has repeatedly told incoming VPs, “reasons matter.” He continues: “Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering.” That “Rubicon,” he has said, “is crossed when you become a VP.

(Excerpt quoted from a MacStories report, accessed on May 11, 2011.)

Great story, great quote.

I'd like to turn this on its head a bit - and ask, "as an owner (manager/boss), are you giving your employees the circumstances, the opportunity, to make it so?"

Here is another story from Apple about Tim Cook.

Tim cook arrived at Apple in 1998 from Compaq Computer. He was a 16-year computer-industry veteran - he'd worked for IBM (IBM, Fortune 500) for 12 of those years - with a mandate to clean up the atrocious state of Apple's manufacturing, distribution, and supply apparatus. One day back then, he convened a meeting with his team, and the discussion turned to a particular problem in Asia.

"This is really bad," Cook told the group. "Someone should be in China driving this." Thirty minutes into that meeting Cook looked at Sabih Khan, a key operations executive, and abruptly asked, without a trace of emotion, "Why are you still here?"

Khan, who remains one of Cook's top lieutenants to this day, immediately stood up, drove to San Francisco International Airport, and, without a change of clothes, booked a flight to China with no return date, according to people familiar with the episode.

Now if Khan had to fill out 15 forms before he could leave, get preapproval from HR for being out of the office, use the 'corporate' carrier, and could not get any money to work from - how would he have been able to 'do whatever it takes' to make it so? For "no excuses" to mean something, the VP has to have some capability to make things happen.

You have to trust your employee (VP level or not) to get things done (and get out of the way). If you want them to 'cross the Rubicon' then just like Caesar they have to have their own legion (their own power) to do just that. And organizations are petrified of releasing that level of control.

Apple's advantage might be that they do a better job of clearing away those things that keep their VPs from being able to go out and act (without excuses). What about your company?

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