November 30, 2005
Two Traps That Hurt Teams
Two traps that hurt real team performance have to do with work assignments. Those who have mastered the team discipline know that mutual accountability for shared work and shared performance is a hallmark of real teams. Put differently, if a small group can achieve the overall performance objectives through a series of individual work assignments, then the group does not need the team discipline for success. The single leader discipline will work better.
However, if a small group faces a performance challenge that cannot be achieved through the sum of individual best contributions -- in other words, if success depends on one or more critical pieces of work being done by two or more people who collaborate in real time and hold themselves mutually accountable -- then the team discipline is required. The single leader discipline's dependence on individual contribution will fall short.
Consider, for example, a small group challenged to redesign a bank branch to improve customer experience and lower operating costs. One can imagine folks with customer service, operations, marketing, and communications skills in such a group. Well, my guess is that if every individual with functional expertise were assigned individual work products -- and that was the sum total of the work of the group -- the group would fall short.
Why? Because I'm guessing that both improving the customer's experience and reducing operating costs requires some collective work products mutually delivered by, say, the operations and customer service folks, or perhaps each of them plus a marketing person.
Now for the twin traps.
Trap No. 1: 'Virtual" collective work products that turn into indivudal work products. For groups whose members are not physically co-located and must use the team discipline virtually, there is a great temptation to assume a collective work product has been assigned when, in fact, because of time and distance, folks end up 'dividing up' the tasks into individual work products. One of the special challenges of teaming virtually is to use explicit, self-conscious steps to be sure your group is not falling into this trap.
Trap No. 2: Work products assigned to 'everyone on the team'. While not impossible, it is rare for any team to have very many particular work products requiring the real time collaboration of all the folks on the team. It is much more likely to need the work divided into a series of both individual and collective work products -- and that the those collective work products are best owned and done by more than one person, but less than 'everyone'. This last trap is especially prevalent among teams at the top where past habit and culture often lead to either a naive or cynical approach of 'we'll all do this together'.Posted by Doug Smith at 07:53 PM | Permalink | TrackBacks (1)
November 29, 2005
Small Number and The Discipline of Team
You've all heard it. You gather in some auditorium to hear the Chief Executive, or you open your morning email for the latest memo from the top and hear or read, "Remember: We're all a team!" Nothing wrong with that. Leaders must encourage, shape and build a culture of shared purpose in order to have any sustainable performance and success. "We're all a team" is leadership in action that, cynicism aside, is constructive.
But, the discipline of delivering team performance is not about huge groups and whole companies. It's limited to a small number of people confronting challenges that best yield to the team approach as opposed to the single leader discipline. You are all very familiar with the single leader disicpline -- the management approach linked to a boss who has a small number of subordinates who together must deliver performance results.
Small number. It's a very pragmatic limiting factor in applying the team discipline. Indeed, management experts have written for years about 'span of control' -- a notion that applies to the single leader discipline. Once the number of direct reports gets beyond seven to ten folks, things start to 'break down' even for the single leader discipline. Bosses start having difficulty with effective communication, defining roles for subordinates and holding them accountable, and with establishing and implementing time efficient processes. Things start to fray at the edges when numbers get beyond 'small'.
None of which means that things go to hell in a hand basket. We're not talking a Category 5 disaster here. Just pressure. Just the kind of breakdowns that, with even larger numbers (say 20 or 30 or 40), almost inevitably lead to formalized subgroupings -- to recasting the span of control for the single leader discipline.
Well, what experience teaches for the single leader discipline also applies to the team discipline. When numbers get above seven to ten, 'things start to break down'. Only the 'things breaking down' are identifying and delivering on collective work products, defining and pursuing common purposes, common goals and commonly agreed upon working approaches; and, shaping a real sense of mutual accountability -- that is, the key aspects to the team discipline.
Well, this morning when you show up at work, ask yourself about the most critical challenges facing the groups you are a part of. List out two or three. Then examine just how many people are in each group charged with delivering performance against those challenges. If you and, say, a handful of others are responsible for any given challenge, then your group is small enough to make choices about when to use the team discipline versus the single leader discipline. If your group is bigger than, say, ten -- and especially if it is much, much bigger -- then you and the leaders of that group might want to revisit 'subgrouping' -- that is, breaking down the overall challenge into parts that lend themselves to 'small number' approaches.Posted by Doug Smith at 01:29 PM | Permalink
November 28, 2005
Show 'Em Some Love
When the truth is found to be lies
And all the joy within you dies
Don't you want somebody to love
Don't you need somebody to love
Wouldn't you love somebody to love
You better find somebody to love
-- The Jefferson AirplanePosted by Doug Smith at 12:40 PM | Permalink
November 27, 2005
The Heart Of Darkness At Time Warner
A few weeks back, the employees of Teen People (a spin off of Time Warner's popular People magazine) told their 1.6 million young readers the February issue would feature two thirteen-year old girls hoping to become the next 'cute girl' singing celebrities.
The girls' mother has reared them to admire Adolf Hitler and, under her parental guidance, they sing in praise of Nazis, ethnic cleansing and the KKK.
After a protest last week, Time Warner initially indicated it would adhere to today's 'fair and balanced' news standard by making sure the article mentioned the girls' mother is a white supremacist. (Presumably, the editorial group behind the piece at Teen People had not intended to let their teenage readers -- or their parents -- in on this.)
Time Warner, though, had second thoughts and later announced they would cancel the article.
According to a Time Warner official, an investigation revealed that an employee at Teen People violated a procedural rule by promising the girls' mother the article would shield readers from 'certain words'. (I am reminded of Marlowe's decision in The Heart of Darkness not to mention 'certain practices' favored by the protagonist Kurtz to Kurtz's widowed 'intended'. Practices such as human sacrifice.)
What does this incident tell us about what the people who work for Time Warner stand for -- that is, how they mix concerns for value (profits, market share, winning) with concerns for values (social, political, religious, family and so forth)?
Thousands of people work in Time Warner's vast array of businesses. Each must rely on the character and values of their collegues every single day if they are to return home and feel good about telling their children, family and friends, "here's what we stand for at Time Warner." Last week's events gave Time Warner employees the chance to tell their kids about their company's shared values regarding racism, Nazism, and ethnic cleansing.
These thousands include an employee who 'made unauthorized assurances to the mother....regarding the prohibition of certain words in the story." Words such as 'hate', 'supremacist' and 'Nazi'.
It was this violation of proper procedures -- not the girls' intonations of hate -- that caused Time Warner to cancel the story - at least if we are to credit the explanation given.
In his book, Democracy's Discontent, Michael Sandel laments the withering effects on politics of a drift toward proceduralism. If people do not make substantive choices about their common good -- about what they stand for substantively -- Sandel argues they lose interest in politics and 'self-government' becomes vacuous.
In On Value and Values, I argue that, in our 21st century world of markets, networks, organizations, friends and families, organizations have become our 'towns' - our opportunity to define and pursue a common good with people with whom we share fates every day of our lives. And, echoing Sandel, I believe people who work together in organizations must blend both substance and process in defining their common good -- what they stand for and why.
This incident suggests proceduralism trumps substance at Time Warner (and the 'town' within Time Warner called Teen People) when it comes to racism. We all know that there is at least one dominant substantive aspect to the common good of folks at Time Warner: the pursuit of profits and shareholder value. Indeed, a highly probable interpretation of this event suggests that the executives at Time Warner pulled the story in order to avoid negative publicity that might adversely affect share price and profits.
In this alternative possibility, Time Warner used their real common good -- pursuit of profits and shareholder value -- as the standard by which to reject a story about two thirteen year old Nazis. They did not use any substantive posture about racism and ethnic cleansing. For those issues, evidently, the only standard is one of pure proceduralism.
Was this incident at Teen People an isolated aberration?
Put differently, if editors and writers at Time Warner follow the procedural rules and do not promise subjects to avoid 'certain words', are promoters of ethnic cleansing racists off limits?
Would, for example, Time Warner allow writers and editors who followed all the procedural rules at, say, their flagship Time Magazine to write about someone who promotes ethnic cleansing of Middle Eastern nations in this manner:
"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."
So, what do the people who work at Time Warner stand for?
Well, they stand for the pursuit of profits and shareholder value without any minimum threshold of substantive concern regarding race hatred and ethnic cleansing. So long as a subject is 'famous' enough to sell magazines and ad space, there is no substantive subject matter off limits to the pursuit of Time Warner's common good: profits.
Which makes one wonder what would happen at Time Warner if an employee showed up at work one day to croon about Adolf Hitler and the need for Time Warner to ethnically cleanse itself of 'mud' people (the word the girls mother has taught them to use to describe non-whites)?
Here's my guess: Time Warner would take whatever steps were necessary to fire that employee. And the folks who work at Time Warner would be mighty happy about it.
The people who work at Time Warner -- the 'thick we' who share fates with one another-- define their common good in terms of pursuing profits and shareholder value. No surprise there. But, if my guess about the fate of a Hitler-loving employee is right, then the thick we at Time Warner also have a minimum substantive standard with regard to ethnic cleansing and race hatred -- at least so far as it affects their lives together inside Time Warner.
However, that same standard does not apply to what Time Warner sells to the rest of us.
Ethnic cleansing is off limits in how the people who work at Time Warner wish to 'live with one another'.
Ethnic cleansing - so long as all procedural rules are followed -- is okay in what Time Warner finds acceptable for covering how the rest of us live together -- that is, so long as the promoter of ethnic cleansing is famous enough to ensure any negative effects of protest on sales and profits are outweighed by postive effects.
Would establishing a minimum threshold about how and when to cover racism and ethnic cleansing be difficult. Very. But then throughout history, people who really share a common good have had to make difficult choices about what is in -- and what is out. They've had to take responsibility for their actions.
Kurtz of The Heart of Darkness was -- belatedly -- doing that when he summed up his life with "The horror. The horror."
Or, as Marlowe might say about Time Warner, "Certain words. Certain practices."Posted by Doug Smith at 12:47 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2005
The Santorum Brand
In our world of markets, networks, organizations, friends and families, political candidates for high profile offices such as Senator, Governor and President must pay a lot of attention to branding. Retail politics -- where the candidate him/herself kissed babies, spoke to town halls, knocked on doors -- went out with Elvis. Yes, candidates still do these things - but only as scripted events aimed at media coverage.
We all know this. So, it's interesting when any poll paints as distinct and clear a picture of a candidate's brand -- what the candidate stands for -- as this recent one in Pennsylvania testing voter responses to Senator Rick Santorum and Bob Casey Jr. on a variety of dimensions. The two men will likely face off in next year's senate race in the Key Stone State.
Santorum currently leads Casey only in the following categories:
Conservative political ideology
Abortion should be illegal in all circumstances
Born again Christian or fundamentalist
18 to 24 years old
Votes mostly or strictly Republican
Considers social issues most important
Does not subscribe to the theory of evolution
Perhaps most striking is the age range -- especially if one combines the full list into a description of a typical Santorum enthusiast.
'Either/or' political branding picked up momentum with the Clinton impeachment and, since 2000, has entirely occupied and defined our political markets for government control. A key part in this is 'identity politics' -- branding strategies for winning and keeping control of government through persuading voters to express their identities at election time.
The 18 to 24 year old Pennsylvanian, anti-science, strict Republican-voting fundamentalists who see themselves as 'conservatives' on social issues were between 11 and 17 when Santorum chose Clinton's impeachment as the coming out party for the Santorum brand. These kids now old enough to vote ranged from sixth graders to high school seniors -- the prime age when hormones start insisting on responses to the question about 'who am I?"
The poll is as close to a sociological Rorschach test as we could ever have. It tells us that the Santorum branding strategy grounded in appeals to emotion, fear and anxiety paid off among those folks most likely to be receptive; namely, hormonal , identity-seeking and anti-science Pennsylvania teenagers who sought in fundamentalism a single answer to all of life's questions.
This is not a big tent.
And, it seems the Senator has begun retooling what he hopes Pennsylvania voters will believe that he stands for. Still, over the past 7 plus years, Santorum has deeply branded himself as a kind of Cadillac of the religious right. Our nation is filled with branding gurus and experts. Santorum may succeed in shifting his brand beyond the narrowness of its current meaning. Still, the first thing any real expert will tell him is that once a brand like Cadillac takes root in the consciousness of consumers, it can take a generation of forgetfulness before times are ripe enough for a new launch.Posted by Doug Smith at 11:12 AM | Permalink | TrackBacks (1)
November 23, 2005
Recommendation to Harris Poll: Use Grades Not Numbers
For several years, Harrisinteractive of the Harris polling company has done an annual survey of the 'reputation quotient' of what it calls the 60 'most visible' companies. The survey asks respondents to evaluate companies against 20 attributes ranging from social responsibility to financial performance to product quality. Each of the twenty can earn a top score of 7 and a low of 1.
To calculate the final scores, Harrisinteractive sums each company's average on the 20 attributes and divides by 140 -- then converts the score to a percentage.
It's like taking a test where your maximum possible score is 140 -- only the teacher chooses to grade you by a percentage.
Thus, Microsoft's average in 2004 was 109.2 out of 140 -- for a 78% score. The top ranked company in 2004, Johnson&Johnson, received a 79.81% score; the lowest, Enron, a 29.03%.
While Harrisinteractive provides a link to a pdf file explaining its methodology, it doesn't really say much about what the rankings or scores mean on the webpage presenting the results. Basically, Harrisinteractive says, "Here are the 60 most visible companies in America" -- and then provides a table with rank order on the left and a score on the right.
It would seem Harrisinteractive is losing an opportunity to clearly communicate. The company believes 'reputation management' is important. It offers polling and other services to help clients do a better job at reputation management (and, the survey must be a marketing tool for building business). It makes sense, then, that Harrisinteractive would want a visitor to its webpage to undertand what the scores mean.
Here's a suggestion. Explain that the scores are based on a percentage with 100% as the best possible. Then, show the scores and convert them to the well-understood letter grade all of us undertand from school.
Thus, the top ranked company, Johnson&Johnson, received a 79.81% or C+. The lowest, Enron, received a 29.03%, or F.
Viewed this way, we could quickly undertand that Americans rate the reputations of the sixty most visible companies as follows:
A: None of the companies.
B: None of the companies.
C: 31 of the companies.
D: 19 of the companies.
F: 10 of the companies.
That's a picture that should generate business for Harrisinteractive!Posted by Doug Smith at 01:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (2)
November 22, 2005
Malicious Music From Sony
The Attorney General of Texas has sued Sony BMG for the aggressive use of 'rootkits' as an anti-piracy tool. The Electronic Frontier Foundation also has sued Sony in a separate matter. Wikipedia describes rootkits as software that "helps an intruder maintain access to a system without the user's knowledge". If that strikes a bad note, it's because rootkits are deployed by creators of viruses and worms in their war against computer users. Rootkits are malicious.
Now we need to ask, "Whose side of this war is Sony on?"
Just think about this for a second. Under what circumstances does it make any sense whatsoever for a maker and distributer of entertainment to be slipping software into your computer that is specifically designed to go undetected?
Rootkits, by the way, are extraordinarily difficult to eliminate once they get into your computer. Under the banner of its vaunted brand, Sony has now snuck a destructive piece of software into the computers of folks who assumed they could trust that "Sony" meant, at a minimum, that when you bought a music CD, you were buying music -- and just music.
Why has Sony, a company that recently won the Harris poll for most respected brand for the sixth year in a row, stooped to the use of rootkits to advance the company's view of copyright protection? Were the executives at Sony building shareholder value? Were they treating the 'customer like king'? Were they providing an exciting, promising environment of creativity and opportunity for their employees?
Sony is locked in a titantic battle over how to continue to make money in a music business utterly transformed by digital technology. But, 'by any means necessary' is not a good answer to any of the tough questions facing the music giant.
What do the folks at Sony music really stand for?
Posted by Doug Smith at 03:37 PM | Permalink
November 21, 2005
Thinking Inside The Box At GM
Today, General Motors announced it would eliminate 30,000 manufacturing jobs through a series of plant closings. That's 9% of the people who work at GM (325,000) and a much higher percentage of manufacturing jobs. This is a tragic development for thousands of families and communities. And, yes, we know that it is also a move aimed at making GM more competitve over the long haul. Both statements are true.
The job cuts come on top of the recently announced deal with the United Auto Workers that reduced GM's health expenses. Together, the two actions will lighten GM's costs by billions a year -- a key to reversing the $4 billion GM has lost in the first nine months of 2005 as well as positioning the auto giant to be more competitve going forward.
All businesses attend to both cost and value in efforts to succeed. With today's announcement, GM has taken a radical step in reducing costs. With this and the health care deal, the attention should now shift to the revenue side of the equation.
What is GM doing to design, build, sell and service great cars that meet the needs of today's customers?
A quick look at the November 21st press release describing GM's turnaround plan fails to build much confidence. (Click here and then choose "Four Point Turnaround Plan"). According to this news release, GM claims to be pursuing an 'aggressive product assault on all vehicle segments', in part by investing the capital required to permit GM to bring '15 all new vehicles' to the market every year.
Let's assume for the moment that 15 is a satisfactory number of all-new vehicles. What's GM planning to do with that capacity as it moves to meet the shifting realities and tastes of customers, especially customers who are beginning to sour on gas guzzling SUVs and other large vehicles?
Well, according to the same news release, GM will unveil 'more than a dozen all new versions of its full size SUVS." Yes, GM indicates that in 'late 2007", it plans to add a new hybrid to the market. (And, oh by the way, GM will also in 2007 roll out an entire new line up of full size pickups).
In response to the radical job cuts, the UAW commented, "Workers have no control over GM's capital investment, product development, design, marketing and advertising decisions. But, unfortunately, it is workers, their families and our communities that are being forced to suffer because of the failures of others."
Yes, the UAW took advantage of its sweet heart deal with GM for decades -- and thereby added to the cost burdens currently disadvantaging all the human beings -- executives and union members alike -- who are involved. Still, there is an important point to the UAW remark: GM's non-unionized employees have much more say over product selection than do the union workers.
Unfortunately, it would appear that those making product choices at GM are stuck 'inside the box'. There's advantage to be gained with cost reductions, capital investment and manufacturing flexibility. It will be a shame if GM throws it all away by merely using the new found capacity to continue building giant, gas guzzling cars and trucks that fail to meet the needs of early 21st century consumers.
Today, GM has indicated it is willing to make tough, radical choices. Well, how about this: Challenge yourselves to radically increase both the number and the speed with which you bring hybrids to market. And, while you're doing that, be as willing to scrap big, gas guzzling SUV, large models and pickups as you are willing to scrap manufacturing jobs.Posted by Doug Smith at 07:46 PM | Permalink | TrackBacks (3)
November 20, 2005
Edelman's Opportunity At Wal-Mart
Wal-Mart has hired Richard Edelman's firm to lead the giant retailer's public relations response to the intensifying debate over Wal-Mart's values and practices. This is a wonderful opportunity for Edelman and those who work in his firm to put into practice Edelman's own values about the responsibilities of public relations professionals in our complex 21st century. According to an Edelman post in November 2004, , PR firms should avoid the 'anything goes' standard of lawyers of claiming that since all deserve representation, firms can take on any client regardless of that client's character and values. He believes PR firms should have a higher standard on who are represented and what is said on their behalf. In addition, he believes in full transparency of work methods. "It is more than what you say. It is how you say it that matters." Finally, Edelman writes of how important it is for PR firms to have a seat in the highest councils of companies in order to ensure that these high principles are adopted and applied.
His firm now has an extraordinay chance to live these values. As we know, Wal-Mart increasingly means controversy in a manner not unlike Iraq or tax cuts or Supreme Court nominees. What the Wal-Mart brand stands for -- every day low prices, low wages, employees with benefits, government subsidy of employees without sufficient benefits,local business erosion, keeping inflation low -- is subject to many claims.
Edelman must have decided that Wal-Mart was a worthy client deserving of the very best in PR help - that is, that Wal-Mart met his first principled test on 'whom to represent'. Now, on a daily basis, those who are working on the Wal-Mart account have the chance to apply the rule on what is said and how it is said.
One suggestion: In choosing how to counter various anti-Wal-Mart assertions, challenge Wal-Mart's highest executives to adopt a policy of acknowledging what is reasonable in those claims.
For example, avoid limiting yourself to writing only this on the Wal-Mart website:
"As of today, 620,000 associates have signed up for health insurance coverage in a Wal-Mart sponsored plan."
Why not present this information about the 620,000 associates while also explaining how many of them went beyond signing up for benefits to actually receiving them. Then note that hundreds of thousands of Wal-Mart associates do not have health insurance. Go on to explain Wal-Mart's position regarding associate health insurance as well as government subsidy. Provide readers of the website an understanding of Wal-Mart's objectives in this area and what the company is doing to pursue these objectives. For example, in choosing how to say what steps Wal-Mart is taking, include the Susan Chambers' memo that has recently been completed regarding an approach to benefits at Wal-Mart being recommended to Wal-Mart's Board of Directors.
It is important and undertandable that a PR firm hired by Wal-Mart should present Wal-Mart's side of the story. It is also important -- both for Wal-Mart and for Richard Edelman - to insure that the public debate and discussion of the challenges Wal-Mart faces are conducted with high standards that Edelman would have all in the PR field apply. Bending over backwards to insure that Wal-Mart's side of the story is presented in a manner that encourages real debate, real discussion and real problem-solving will be the highest, best testimony to Edelman and his firm.
Let's wish him and his firm well as they move to the higher ground.
November 19, 2005
Market Based Discussion Doesn't Work Well
Figuring out the best approaches to difficult problems is hard work in any context. But, it is much harder in a market context than an organizational one. Take as an example Iraq. The problem solving effort does move forward in both contexts; that is, the political market for government direction and policy as well as any number of organizational contexts (e.g. the US Army). A major difference between these two contexts arises from objective and purpose. In organizations, purpose relates to the organization's reason for being. In the case of the US Army, that purpose has shifted in Iraq from winning a militery conflict toward assisting Iraq in the transition to stability. The second, we've come to learn, is much more complex than the first. Still, when those involved in the organization show up to work each day, they do their best to problem solve together toward the purpose at hand.
(Yes, I know, this is a simplification. Many will immediately recoil and get heated up -- but that has a lot to do with our perspective on context. How many of us 'react' because we are operating within a market perspective versus an organizational one? That is, we are commenting/promoting a point of view we wish would take hold of the political and governmental direction as opposed to contributing to a debate based on the purpose of the US Army and with an obligation to at least imagine we are part of the Army responsible for carrying out that purpose?)
I was reminded of this difference when I read of Representative Murtha's proposed resolution:
Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That:
Section 1. The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date.
Section 2. A quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S Marines shall be deployed in the region.
Section 3 The United States of America shall pursue security and stability in Iraq through diplomacy
Murtha is operating within an organization - Congress -- charged, among other things, with guiding the purposes of the US Army and others. Look closely at his three Sections. Re-read them. Are they a call for the abandonment of Iraq? Are they a call for the immediate withdrawal of troops? Do they suggest the United States should ignore Iraq?
No. Representative Murtha is proposing an alternative strategy -- an alternative approach to a phenomenally complex problem.
The market for political control and government policy, however, did not hear or interpret Murtha's proposal as strategy, however. The market quickly reduced the meaning to branding and product simplification. What the politicans, media and others who compete in that market did was deny the public any real, thoughtful problem-solving guidance by instantaneously transforming Murtha's strategic possibilities into 'up or down', 'you're in or you're out', "stay the course or cut and run', 'you're with us or against us', 'you're for Bin Ladin or you're for America', and so on.
Think about this. Only, for a second, pick any REAL problem or challenge you face at home, school, work, church or elsewhere. Is this the approach to problem-solving you'd like to bet on? Probably not. But then all of those contexts -- family, school, work, church -- are more like organizational contexts than giant, anonymous and abstract market contexts.Posted by Doug Smith at 12:34 PM | Permalink
November 18, 2005
Teacher As Boss
Teaching -- at any level and in any context -- is a human gift of profound importance. If that teaching is done in an ongoing organizational setting (e.g. a classroom), the teacher inevitably must accomodate him or herself to a shared assumption regarding authority. Yes, this shared assumption can be gossamer thin in some contexts; sturdier in others. Still, teachers who aspire to excellence ought to look and learn from other situations where a person is vested with authority. Hence, 'teacher as boss'. Not to suggest that teachers be 'only the boss'. But, rather, to suggest teachers learn what constitutes a good versus bad boss in order to make their own choices.
So, teachers might want to take a look at the good boss/bad boss indicators and judge for themselves how they're doing.
All good bosses are also good teachers. I'm struck, then, that the opposite is probably also relevant; namely, that all good teachers know how to make excellent use of what makes for a good boss.Posted by Doug Smith at 01:31 PM | Permalink
November 16, 2005
The Rule Of Principle, Not Personality
Any widespread belief and practice of 'the rule of law' can be understood as a strong commitment to principle over personality. Consider, for example, a game such as Scrabble. The rule of law applied to Scrabble means that the players mutually accept a set of rules -- a set of laws -- for playing the game; and, that, while playing any particular game, the players abide by them.
There are occasions, as any regular Scrabble players knows, when words are spelled out that are not covered by existing rules; that is, particular plays that demand review under a set of agreed upon rules that leave the acceptability of the word unclear. Many Scrabble players agree on a rule that words must exist in dictionaries. Only by playing the game do they, in the heat of competition, come to agree on 'what particular dictionary or dictionaries". Then, at some point having specified dictionaries, they find themselves debating the acceptability of words such as 'app' in common usage that have yet to find themselves in those dicitonaries -- and so on.
The rule of law in Scrabble evolves during games and between games. Perhaps 'app' is not accepted during a particular game; but agreement is reached to find and accept a dictionary with more updated contents.
One phenomenon than any Scrabble player understands, however, is this: It is simply neither possible nor credible to claim 100% objectivity. Players are involved in these difficult moments and choices. What the players aspire to is the use of agreed upon principles to outweigh their individual subjectivity. But, subjectivity -- the potential for a rule of people not principle -- is always present. For example, one player may be more 'up' on current words than another. When the 'between game' rule making chooses whether to include newer, more conteporary dictionary, that is a reality that is undeniable. Each of the players -- each of the rule makers -- involved cannot credibly deny that their relative skills, knowledge, persoanal preferences and so forth are involved.
What they can credibly suggest is that, with all humility, they seek to continue playing Scrabble together with orderly expectations about the rules and an overall commitment to rules.
Humility in a regime of law, then, demands that we acknowledge the reality that our personal points of view are part of the reality within which we set and abide by rules. What we demand of those who very actively participate in rule making is that they both acknowledge this reality with humility and that, as part of their contributions to the rule of law, that they tell us when their personal beliefs are most at risk of influencing the game.
We ask them to be human beings, not machines -- and to be honest about that.
Thus, if a client seeks an advocate -- say, a corporation charged with sex discrimiination seeks a talented, accomplished female attorney to represent the corporation -- the client expects the attorney to avoid letting personal beliefs from getting in the way. But the client does not expect -- nor will the attorney find it possible -- to deny or ignore the existence of those beliefs. This is why some attorneys -- both men and women -- don't accept certain assignments and why others do.
Of course, the opposite is also evident; namely, that some lawyers actively seek assignments because those assignments are strongly in line with their personal views. Many lawyers, for example, actively volunteer for death penality cases because they so strongly oppose the death penality.
This, it would seem, is what must have motivated Sam Alito when he sought the Reagan Justice Department job in 1985. He strongly opposed a woman's right to choose and he wanted to work in a Justice Department that might do something to curtail or reverse that right. He evidently felt just as strongly about working for a Justice Department that might seek to disenfranchise voters by reversing the Constitutional right of 'one person, one vote'.
In other words, Sam Alito pursued the opportunity to change the world in a way he actively supported -- to make the United States a nation that reflected his strong personal beliefs -- to change the rules.
Suggesting that he would 'say anything just to get a job', it seems to me, fails to give Sam Alito credit for (1) his deep personal opposition to one person, one vote and a woman's right to choose; and, (2) his deep desire to use the skills and tools he had acquired to actively participate in a Repubican administration he believed would seek to change those principles.
Alito, though, went on to differentiate for Feinstein his sense of an advocate's job versus a judge's job. "I'm now a judge... I'm not an advocate. I don't give heed to my personal views, what I do is interpret the law."
Well, let's first note that he fails the test of humility. It would be refreshing for a nominee to the Supreme Court to acknowledge that they have personal views and to explain what those views are. In doing so, the nominee can -- and indeed should -- explain what and how he works hard to limit the effect or influence of those personal views in matters at hand. But to suggest that judges somehow are not human beings - that they do not have subjectivity -- is neither credible nor, frankly, human.
Second, though, let's also acknowledge that Alito understands through his experience as a judge that he is expected to put his personal beliefs to one side. I simply cannot accept any other proposition.
But, third, let's go on to ask about the risks of personal points of view influencing the interpretation of law. Those are even larger in the world of courtrooms than they are in Scrabble. And, the stronger a personal point of view, the more likely that point of view will find it's way into law.
So, based on his comments to Feinstein, we know this:
Alito deeply opposes a woman's right to choose as well as one person, one vote.
Alito lacks the humility to acknowledge that he is a human being with deep personal views that are necessarily part of the reality of doing his job.
Alito understands that a judge is supposed to avoid having the rule of personality/subjectivity interfere with the rule of principle/law
And, finally, Alito is seeking a job for which he has been nominated by a Republican administration that itself deeply lacks humility and is just as deeply opposed to a woman's right to choose and works hard to discourage voters from exercising their franchise.
Values are best understood by looking at that combination of belief and behavior that is most predictable. Before jumping to 'good' versus 'bad', let's look hard at 'what is and why'. Alito's beliefs and behaviors are laid out across a life in which he has worked hard to reverse a woman's right to choose as well as one person, one vote. This is who he is; this is what he stands for.
And, in our rule of law, there is no current rule that makes anything he's done illegal. He's a person seeking to change the world and taking action in whatever sphere is available to him to do so. That is his right according to how we play 'Scrabble' in our nation today.
Another part of how we play 'Scrabble' is this: the Senate must decide whether or not to put Alito on the Supreme Court. As they make their decision, let's hope they will look at the nominee's deep personal beliefs and choose whether those beliefs best serve the rule of law in the United States. Put differently, the Senate must choose whether to put Sam Alito the human being -- not some fictitious Sam Alito as computer -- on the Supreme Court.
Posted by Doug Smith at 01:14 PM | Permalink
November 13, 2005
The Incompleteness of Hierarchy
Peter Drucker, the preeminent management thinker of the 20th century, died this week. Let's honor him, ourselves and our posterity by picking up on one of his central teachings; namely, that, while powerful and useful, hierarchy is incomplete. It is but one thread in the fabric of management and leadership -- albeit the thread most prominently displayed.
When matched to a division of effort that fits any challenge at hand, clear lines of hierarchical authority work efficently - even elegantly -- to deliver effective solutions. The big word in this, though, is 'fit'. Let's say we work in a restaurant and the chef is overseeing a group of folks who need to deliver a set menu of, say, 15 meals every evening. Assume also that the number of diners varies within a well understood range, there are steady, reliable relationships with vendors providing ingredients and so forth, and that the staff has worked with the chef for many, many months. In this context, the challenge of providing the diners the 15 meals is well served by a clear division of effort and hierarchical lines of authority. Would those in the kitchen also benefit from respectful, cordial and constructive working relationships? Yes. But, such is the case with all hierarchical arrangements. Indeed, it's a comment on our culture's bizarre obsession with the good vs. evil of hierarchy that one even has to write this additional sentence.
Yet, even in this orderly, well understood and predictable example there is a need for non-hierarchical aspects of management. How, for example, will those reporting to the chef learn? Through hierarchy? Yes, in part. But, not strictly through a chef giving orders.
Still, let us all praise hierarchy as a part of what makes our world work well. But, let us stop this unrelenting bad practice of assuming that hierarchy is ever enough by itself. It is not.
And, as Peter Drucker saw over the greater part of his life, pure, unalloyed hierarchical approaches are very dangerous -- indeed, they inevitably fail and, in their failures, cause misery to all affected. Put most simply, there is this: The vast, vast majority of challenges we face today do not lend themselves to purely hierarchical approaches. The challenges are too fast moving, too dynamic, too unpredictable, too chaotic. These challenges do not 'fit' a managerial and leadership approach grounded in order, clear division of labor, formally granted authority, stable working relationships, or futures that predictably extend routine pasts.
Whether the challenges have to do with restaurants -- or nations -- the 21st century will not yield either effectively or peacefully to strictly hierarchical approaches. There are many ways we can honor Peter Drucker for the gifts he bestowed upon us. But one powerful tribute would surely be to, as quickly and richly as possible, get our conversations beyond the all or nothing assumptions about hierarchy -- to dedicate ourselves to using non-hierarchical approaches to discussing how we can respond to so many challenges that now lie between us and our best future together. There is a word for such approaches. Democracy.
But, to blend democractic and hierarchical approaches in a best path forward, we must overcome the illusion that either is complete in and of itself.Posted by Doug Smith at 12:53 PM | Permalink
November 11, 2005
Soul Searching At NY Times
If I'm understanding this correctly, the publisher of the NY Times has said the Judith Miller affair is minor when contrasted with the Jayson Blair affair. Among other things, Blair plagiarized his way through the ranks and, at some point along the way, did so without sufficient oversight from management. These failings put in question all that the Times -- and the thick we who work there -- stood for. Miller, in comparison, used her position to promote a war and the political careers of those who wanted it. Along the way, she lied to her colleagues, hoodwinked her publisher, reported fiction instead of facts, took the Times's honor to jail on false pretenses -- and did untold damage to her nation.
Both are disgraceful. And, while much worthwhile discussion might arise from contrasting the two for lessons learned, there is one unavoidable reason why I think the Miller affair is worse for the NY Times: it came second.
It came after folks at the Times spent untold resources and energy rooting out the causes of journalistic and management misbehavior and declared to the world not only what the NYTImes stood for - but any number of serious steps being taken to live up to those values.
And, all the while people at the Times were working hard to reform while also proclaiming revitalized virtue, Judith Miller -- acting as 'star' reporter without adequate management oversight -- was eating away and violating the soul and the heritage of the company.
Posted by Doug Smith at 01:17 PM | Permalink
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November 09, 2005
What Do People Who Work at IRS Stand For?
More than 100,000 people work at the IRS. People like Frank, Jeff, Laurie and Linda. In our new world of market, networks, organizations, friends and families, these four and thousands of their colleagues depend on one another every single day for matters of great importance to each of them: job security, benefits, affiliation, shared purpose.
When Frank, Jeff, Laurie and Linda go home at night, they must be able to share with their families and friends, 'what they really stand for' -- that is, what blend of concern for value (job security) and values (the social, political, and other beliefs and behaviors) prevail at the IRS, whether they agree, and, if not, what they are doing about it. This fundamental reality -- what do the organizations we work for really stand for - applies as much to Frank, Jeff, Laurie, Linda and others at the IRS as it does to folks who work at organizations from the humongous (Wal-Mart) to the tiny (your local barbershop).
All of which raises this question for Frank, Jeff, Laurie, Linda and their thousands of colleagues:
If yes, will you demand that your colleagues now investigate and deny tax status to Baptist churches that promote opposite political results?
If no, what are you -- yes, you -- doing -- today -- to communicate and take other steps to stop the action against this Episcopal church?
Look, folks, we live in a complicated world. In this world, we must rely on employees and executives of organizations to hold themselves accountable for serving the rest of us well.
Should people beyond the IRS take action with regard to what appears to be a unilateral strike in favor of one side of the political process? Yes, of course.
But at the end of the day, efficiency, effectiveness and morality demand that the people best positioned to stop such uneven practices-- the employees and executives of organizations -- take those steps. They are better positioned, more involved, have more information, have the relationships and other means because they work together every day and -- critically -- have much more at stake including their character as human beings.
It's their job. And, it's their 21st century 'community' -- the 'community', the 'town' we call the IRS. We just learned, for example, that the folks who live in Dover, Pennsylvania debated and chose what Dover stood for on the issue of intelligent design. Well, most of us no longer live out our lives in the context of geographic towns like Dover. We live our lives in more complicated ways -- including in the 'towns' and 'communities' we call our organizations.
It's our responsibility -- as employees and executives -- in these organizations to both choose and follow through on what 'we really stand for'.
So, Frank, Jeff, Laurie and Linda: Which is it?
The even handed policy and practice of denying churches tax exempt status if they promote candidacies or political positions synonymous with candidacies?
Or, the even handed choice to leave churches alone and devote the IRS's limited resources in other ways?
What do you really stand for?Posted by Doug Smith at 12:36 PM | Permalink | TrackBacks (1)
November 08, 2005
If you visit Dave Wilton's wordorigins, you can explore the evolution of meaning for various words from A to Z. "Quiz", for example, has gone from a noun describing an odd person to a verb about mocking or making fun to our contemporary verb of testing. This phenomenon -- that the meaning of words do not stand still -- is neither new nor surprising. Any parent of any teenager experiences it almost daily.
All of which should bring some humility to the raging controversy over judical activism, results-oriented judges and so-called legal originalists. "Law" itself has meant many things to many peoples over time. One constant, though, is this: the law is expressed in words.
If those words do not speak to us in our times, then the words are written in dead letters. This is reality. We cannot hope to govern ourselves if we do not have judges who understand both that words must mean something and that those meanings must relate to our lives as we live them today. The notion that, for example, the Constitution is as inert at stone is a sophistical sleight-of-hand. It is proposed by those who wish to bring their own meaning into our national conversation. Meanwhile, the opposite concept that the Constitution is a hyper-active, attention deficit riddled engine for social change is equally suspect.
Judges have jobs like the rest of us. Their unique responsibility lies in significant ways in the interpretation of words to fit both principles and our lives. That's a hard job. But none of us advance either our undertanding or their performance by denying legal words the same standing we routinely grant to 'quiz' -- or 'hot' or 'right on' or 'cool'. So, let's 'get over it'.Posted by Doug Smith at 01:00 PM | Permalink
November 07, 2005
Focusing Energy At Chevron
Chevron has invited a handful of experts as well as the general public to join a discussion about the planet's energy future.
We should applaud this effort. Wherever the effort sits on the spectrum of 'toe in the water/public relations' to 'serious inquiry", it does allow for discussion -- perhaps most importantly among the employees and executives of Chevron (the 'thick we' so well positioned to do something about how Chevron's actual strategy creates a best future for the planet).
In saying, this, though we also need to pay attention to how Chevron sets up the dialogue because how a problem is defined contributes critically to the effectiveness of problem solving itself. As the old Yankee once said, "Well's begun is half done."
The current question is posed like this: Who should be primarily responsible for ensuring we conserve more energy -- governments, businesses or market forces?
Look, this is obviously an important question and can support a healthy debate. But it is also defective in a serious way because of the use of 'primarily'. That word -- indeed, even the question without that word -- sets up an 'either/or' debate. But, no one can solve the complicated energy challenges we face with either/or approaches. We need both/and thinking and problem solving.
The debate would be richer and more pragmatic if the question posed were this: "How can business, government and non-governemental organizations work together to ensure we conserve more energy? And, how would any of us know such efforts were successful?"
November 05, 2005
In his book The Ethics of Memory, the contemporary philosopher Avishai Margalit differentiates between what he calls 'thick we's' and 'thin we's'. Thin we's have abstract, thin bonds -- all Americans, all human beings, all "20-somethings". Margalit is more interested in exploring ethical issues among people whose relationships are 'thicker'; who have shared experiences and shared memories that raise questions of caring and hatred.
There's much we can do with this distinction. Especially, if we expand and enrich the two concepts to fit how we actually lead our lives in the 21st century. In my book On Value and Values -- and in the posts to this website like my other writing -- a 'thick we' is made up of people who inescapably share one or more meaningful aspects of their fates with one another and who inevitably must together balance individual self-interest with the purposes they share as a 'we'. Because they share fates in various real, tangible and everyday ways, thick we's must both shape and implement some common good together.
Let's unpack this a bit. Your family is a thick we. You have friends who together with you make for a thick we. Those with whom you interact daily at work are a thick we. If you regularly play soccer or go bowling with others, that's a thick we. If you attend religious services with a persistent set of folks, that's another thick we.
In each of these illustrations, there is some meaningul and important aspect of your fate - of your health, wealth, well being, etc -- that is wrapped up with the same aspects for the other folks involved in your thick we.
In contrast, people who might identify themselves with 'thin we's' have simliar interests or concerns, but do not really share any aspect of their fates with one another in tangible, gritty and everyday ways. They do not even know one another by name. There's nothing requiring them to shape a common good or take action together -- to hold one another accountable -- for implementing their common good.
Consider, then, "red" versus "blue" Americans. Yes, these thin we's matter a heckuva lot to the future of the United States (and the world). But, 'red' and 'blue" Americans are better understood as market segments comprised of individuals who in their roles as voters and customers influence political and other markets. Importantly, the people in these 'thin we's' have no responsibility whatsoever to implement or hold themselves accountable for the actions of the candidates or the impact of the policies supported. Rather, as voters, consumers, family members and friends, people in thin we's look to the thick we's elected -- political parties, congresses, executive offices, governmental organizations -- to shape and implement the share purposes of those organizations - -of those 'thick we's'.
Thus, Congress is a thick we. Indeed, it's an excellent example of the following nuance: in differentiating thick from thin, I am not suggesting 'good vs. bad'. Thick we's have the strongest and most predictable shared values - but those values - that blend of belief, behavior, attitude and speech -- can be predictably bad, predictably good or predictably in-between. Congress is a thick we on whom the thin we's named 'red' versus 'blue' Americans depend. The question for Congress -- like any thick we -- is what constitutes Congress' common good, Congress' shared purposes, Congress' blend of concern for value ('reelection') with the concern for values ('governance'; 'liberty and justice for all")?
It is in thick we's -- not thin we's -- that our concern for value (money, profits, winning) is most tested against our concern for values (family, social, political, religious and so on). It is in thick we's -- not thin we's -- that our individual concerns about ourselves -- about 'me' -- are most tested against the concerns and purposes of the group, of the thick we.
In the early 21st century, most thick we's in which any of us participate tend to favor one of these concerns over the other. At work, our thick we's -- the organizations in which we are employed -- routinely use value as a trump card over values. The shared purposes -- the common good -- is denominated in terms of profits, winning, shareholder value and the like.
At home, in church or at play, our dominant concern is one or more values as opposed to value.
All of which contributes to the profound split between value and values in our culture. We lead dual lives -- pursuing value over values from 9 to 5 and the reverse during the remainder of each day.
This is not sustainable. Consider only resources and power. We live in a world of markets, networks, organizations, friends and families. The vast majority of power and resources lie in organizations and, therefore, shape where those organizations will take the markets and networks of our world -- indeed, the world itself.
Today, the vast majority of those organizations pursue value over values. Others -- and the less powerful ones -- pursue values over value. Neither of these strategies are sustainable. Churches, schools, non-profits and so forth cannot sustain themselves by ignoring and being blind to value. But -- and this is by far the more serious challenge -- neither can for-profit organizations (whether Wal-Mart or GM or Roche -- or a small bookstore or cleaners or barbershop) sustain itself if value -- if profits, wealth, shareholder value or winning -- is the trump card for every single serious issue and question on the table. Eventually, that approach eviscerates and hollows out the values -- social, political, spiritual, environmental, medical, legal and others -- on which the very value pursued rests.
Thick we's have become the central, most critical crucible in which our thin we's fates -- all six billion of us on the planet -- are now being shaped. If we can restore a healthy, blended concern for both value and values in our thick we's, we can and will pass along a healthier, saner and more sustainable planet to our children and grandchildren.
November 03, 2005
Horses, Barns and Buy-In
You're actively involved in some significant change -- for example, a new strategy, a major reengineering project, a shift in brand approach and so forth. There are a variety of folks -- from many perspectives -- whose buy-in will matter to the success of whatever choice is made. Buy-in itself is a subtle concept. Those making the choices typically interpret buy-in by others as one part intellectual understanding and one part emotional commitment. As actually approached and practiced, however, it more typically generates the first (intellectual understanding) than the second (emotional commitment).
It's a good idea to identify all consituencies and why/how they matter to the choice at hand as well as the success of the implementation of the choice. If any constituency's emotional commitment is critical, it's advisable to (1) find ways to engage in ways beyond "Q&A's"; and, (2) make sure the engagement happens before the 'horse is out of the barn" -- that is, while the choice is still in formation.
For those whose intellectual understanding of the choice is needed, "Q&A" approaches are just fine. Still, to be effective, you need to recognize and approach the communication differently depending on the horse and barn. If the horse is still in the barn -- the choice is in formation -- you can say as much. You can let those in the conversation with you know the general direction of the effort, the kind of issues and concerns in play, and you can seek input, critique, and other possibilities. But, if the horse has left the barn, you simply cannot take this approach because it violates credibility and truth.
Once the choice has been made, any communication with any constituency is part of the implementation of the choice -- not the formation of the choice. Seeking 'buy in' after the horse has left the barn is a different challenge than beforehand. And, you're well advised to put the context of your conversation squarely in some specific aspect of implementation. Put differently, you're now seeking buy-in to some critical aspect of moving forward with the choice -- not to the nature of the choice itself.
November 01, 2005
Big Pharma and Bird Flu: A proposed deal
Three weeks ago, executives from several major pharmaceutical companies sat down with President Bush to exchange ideas on how best to prepare for a possible bird flu pandemic.
As noted previously, much of the pandemic possibility lies in a race between mutation of the bird flu and finding and distributing effective antidotes. Big Pharma told Bush they are reticent to invest in antidote development in the absence of laws holding them harmless from liability lawsuits and damages from people who get shots and either die or get seriously ill nonetheless.
So, how about this deal? The Bush Administration and Congress agree to quickly pass such laws in return for Big Pharma agreeing to forego patent protection in the case of bird flu antidotes as well as proactively sharing all advances among themselves and with other companies and nations around the world.
This is a win/win for everyone. Congress and the Administration can act quickly to protect all of us -- thereby avoiding the nightmare of a Katrina re-run. Moreover, it would be the kind of real collaboration most folks long to see from Washington. And, Big Pharma can move quickly into action with all their talent, expertise and knowledge in a way that would also help them diminish claims that their sole interest lies in profits.Posted by Doug Smith at 06:34 PM | Permalink