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February 28, 2006

Blended Values Strategies

Blended values strategies are choices about all the usual aspects of strategy -- but with a twist: neither the pursuit of value (money, profits, winning, wealth) nor the pursuit of other values (social, family, political, technological, environmental, spiritual, creative, legal or medical) is the trump card for all critical (or even non critical) decisions. In blended values strategies, the organization -- the business -- constructs a narrative of successful performance by and through which all key stakeholders both gain from and contribute to the success and happiness of the other stakeholders.

Blended values strategies do not put the interests of any constituency first. Businesses that identify and pursue blended values strategies do not allow 'shareholder value' to trump all other concerns. Nor do such strategies make 'the customer king', or operate to the exclusive benefit of executives and employees.

Rather, the narrative of sustainable success is an interative one that stretches out into the foreseeable future -- telling a story by which shareholders provide opportunities to the people of the enterprise and their partners to provide value and values to customers who generate returns to shareholders who provide opportunities to the people of the enterprise and their partners.... and on and on and on.

Each link in this story is ornamented with SMART outcome-based goals by which those involved know the answer to this key question: "How would we or anyone know we had succeeded with this blended values strategy?"

For shareholders, yes, those SMART outcomes will include share price, profits, market share, brand equity and more. For customers or beneficiaries, those SMART outcomes would speak to quality, speed, loyalty, share, innovation and more. And, for the people of the enterprise and their partners, the SMART outcomes would reflect success at skills, opportunities, and values as well as dollars -- whether direct or in terms of benefits.

Blended values strategies are intentionally win/win for all stakeholders. They are not 'put up' jobs that talk the talk about how 'employees are our most important assets' and 'the customer comes first', but, in the end, only walk the walk of 'shareholder value and executive compensation'.

Posted by Doug Smith at 08:39 PM | Permalink | TrackBacks (2)

February 26, 2006

Rope A Dope

Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it. It's a famous -- and wise -- adage. Too often, though, the assumption is that one must be deep into scholarship to identify the themes, patterns and strategies to be avoided. Not so. Even sports fans in high office might find warnings to avoid -- if only they and those surrounding them have open, flexible, attentive, and democratic minds.

For example, consider what many deem the most brilliant fight ever waged by Muhammed Ali and the lessons of history we now -- tragically -- are repeating:

OCTOBER 30, 1974

Here are some excerpts from this (behind firewall) HBO account of the fight:

Excerpt: Ali’s opponent was undefeated Heavyweight Champion, George Foreman.

Read: Bin Laden's opponent was America, the world's only superpower.

Excerpt: Promoter Don King had come up with the notion of having the fight take place in Zaire, and labeled it the "Rumble in the Jungle."

Read: Promoters Cheney, Rove, Rumsfield, Rice and Bush had come up with the notion upon taking office in January, 2001, of looking for an opportunity to have the fight take place in Iraq -- regardless of whether any provocation for a fight actually came from Iraq. Once the provocation arrived (see below), they labeled it "The War on Terrorism" and carefullly rolled it out like a product strategy timed best for their electoral goals.

Excerpt: As with any huge international event, this one had extraordinary subtext. Ali’s flamboyant nature, good looks, endless sound bites, and strong pro-African beliefs, made him a huge favorite in Zaire. By contrast, George Foreman surrounded himself with his entourage, and isolated himself from the African people. By the time the fighters entered the ring, the crowd was yelling "Ali, boma ye!," meaning "Ali, kill him!"

Read: As with any huge international event, this one had extraordinary subtext. Bin Laden's flamboyant nature, charismatic personality, endless sound bites and strong pro-jihadist, pro-terrorist beliefs, made him a huge favorite in terrorist networks. By contrast, George Bush surrounded himself with his entourage, and isolated himself from the American people as well as people everywhere."

Excerpt: Ali had boasted that Foreman couldn’t keep up with his speed. To prove that point in the first round, he threw lead rights at Foreman from across his body. The lead right from a right-handed fighter is the easiest punch to see coming, so in a sense, Ali was openly taunting Foreman.

Read: Bin Laden had boasted for years he could hit America at a time and place of his choosing. To prove his point in the first round, his box cutter wielding terrorists threw airplanes at some of America's most symbolic targets. The Promoters had been advised by the outgoing Clinton Administration to pay most attention to terrorists as opposed to bad actors like Sadaam Hussein. But the Promoters chose to ignore this because they hated the Clinton administration and, so, turned a blind eye to the information set forth in the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing. Bin Laden was openly taunting America.

Excerpt: In the second round, Ali fell into a strategy few had ever seen. Ali fell back against the ropes, and waved Foreman to come get him. He protected his head, but Foreman pounded away at his ribs and his gut. Round after round, quite possibly the hardest hitting heavyweight in boxing history unleashed his fury. Only the ropes kept Ali from being launched into the ringside seats. Under the thudding attack of Foreman’s sledgehammer fists, to Ali, every three-minute round must have seemed an hour long.

Read: Just as he had on earlier occasions, Ben Ladin pulled back after the September 11th attacks. The Promoters used the greatest military ever assembled on the planet and the courageous men and women who served in it to pound away at Iraq. Round after round, undoubtedly the hardest hitting heavyweight military power in history, unleashed its fury on Iraq. Only the Pakistani mountains and caves -- and the obsession of fighting where Ben Laden wasn't -- kept the head of Al Queda from being captured. Under the thudding attack of the Promoters' sledgehammer military, though, every day must have seemed to the Iraqis like a year in hell.

Exerpt: But there was a nefarious method to Ali’s madness. After several rounds of relentlessly throwing leather, Foreman began to tire, his arms began to drop. In the seventh round, Ali let Foreman in on his secret. "I beat him for one, two, three, four rounds—beat him good", Foreman said. "At about the seventh round, I had him beaten, I knew I had him, he fell on my side and whispered, ‘Is that all you got George?’ I knew something strange was happening in my life especially because that was all I had."

Read: But there was a nefarious method to Ben Ladin's madness. After nearly three years of relentlessly throwing fire power, money, the blood of brave men and women, national honor, treasured democratic values, the Constitution of the United States, the rule of law and much ballyhooed bravado ("Let's Roll", "Mission Accomplished", "Bring It On", "Deadenders". "Last Throes", "These Colors Don't Run"), America began to tire. Ben Ladin kept taunting. He continued to release tapes saying that America would never catch him. The numbers of terrorists grew wildly as did the number of their attacks around the world. It dawned on more and more Americans -- even those who had put self interest above country to aid and abet the Promoters -- that something strange was happening.

Ali sprung like a cobra in the eighth round. He exploded with a right-left combo, over Foreman’s lowered arms, directly to the chin of the exhausted champ. Foreman went down, and couldn’t beat the count. Ali had stared down the barrel of the world’s most powerful heavyweight—a physically superior opponent—and completely out-thought him in the ring. Ali’s strategy, the infamous "rope-a-dope", reversed the odds. Muhammed Ali was the Heavyweight Champion of the World, only the second man to ever win the title back.

Read: The time has come to put a different fighter in the ring against Bin Laden, Al Queda, and the world's terrorist networks because our nation -- and our values -- have never been more vulnerable to terrorists or to those whose ideological obsessions, unlimited appetites for power, and bottomless incompetence endanger the entire world every day they show up to "make their own reality."

Posted by Doug Smith at 01:00 PM | Permalink

February 24, 2006

Thresholds Of Decency

In our complex 21st century, tens of millions of us experience what has traditionally been meant by the word community in the organizations where we work. It is in that context that we depend on other people we know for critical aspects of our lives: security, affiliation, meaning, and more. Each day we go to work, there are co-workers who will do much to influence our health, well being and future. And, these co-workers are not limited to close friends or family. They have little relationship to us other than the purposes we share with them that are related to the purposes of the organization where we work with them.

In too many organizations, the shared purposes reflect a bias toward value (profits, money, winning) over other values (family, social, environmental, spiritual, political and so forth). Value is the trump card. If a decision will increase profits and shareholder wealth, the odds are that decision will get made. Indeed, this is a profoundly powerful description of the shared beliefs and behaviors in our organizations -- of the 'way we do things around here'.

Consequently, news that employees calling themselves scientists doctored information about health risks in order to gain profit making opportunities for their companies come as no surprise. In our world of value trumping values, this is 'dog bites man' -- not the reverse. It's common place. It's not really news in the sense of surprise. It's predictable.

Tomorrow, though, when you go to work, ask yourself: In this community you know as your organization, is there any threshold of decency below which you -- the thick we of your organization who share fates -- will not allow value to trump values? For example, if sickness and death of some of your co-workers are a potential consequence of profit making choices, does that sit above or below the threshold of decency?

Posted by Doug Smith at 01:02 PM | Permalink

February 22, 2006

Buy Clean Energy for $29.95

TerraPass is a wonderful idea. You can go to the website and, after calculating the emissions from your car or truck, purchase clean energy offsets for as little as $29.95. And, yes, nothing prevents you from purchasing clean energy well in excess of your car's emissions.

According to the website, TerraPass customers have helped reduce over 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide pollution through funding clean energy projects. I couldn't find the associated dollar amount on the site. But, through reasonable estimating, it looks like TerraPass customers have ponied up nearly a quarter million dollars. Pretty impressive for a website that -- one guesses -- has but microscopic brand recognition.

Which means, of course, you can help in at least three ways. First, buy some clean energy offsets. Second, email and otherwise create the word of mouth needed to make TerraPass a household name. Third, and perhaps most critical, set a goal and achieve it.

In Make Success Measurable, I write about performance being the primary objective of change, not change. Setting outcome-based goals is central to performance-driven change. For example, you might set this goal: "Within one month, purchase TerraPass clean energy and get at least five others to do so as well."

Easy to measure results. And, if you did this -- and encouraged those you know to do so as well -- TerraPass would soon enough have much more than a quarter million dollars on hand to invest and support clean energy.

Posted by Doug Smith at 01:25 PM | Permalink

February 20, 2006

Performance Madness At Ford

Here's an astonishing factoid from Laurence Haughton:

"In 2005 Ford executives spent over 4.4 million management days tracking and assessing their company’s performance. That’s just short of 100 days per manager on average, over 19 work weeks looking at how everyone in every department was doing and creating new plans to hit budget. And if you add it up over the last 5 years Ford has invested some $6 billion dollars and some 21 million person days in the same activity – reviewing performance and generating new plans."

I do not know the source of Mr. Haughton's numbers. But, let's accept them for a moment and explore the implications. For example, don't just think about the managers. Think too about the time, attention, effort and cost put into preparing for meetings with managers about performance at Ford. If we imagine for every managerial hour there are, say, four non-managerial preparation and attendance person-hours, then a total of 21 million person days were spent at Ford tracking and assessing performance in 2005.

Assume that, with holidays, sick days and vacation, an average person at Ford works 240 days per year. That means Ford deploys 87,000 full time equivalent folks each year tracking and assessing performance and generating new plans for performance.

According to a recent article, Ford has about 300,000 employees worldwide.

So, if Laurence Haughton -- and the assumption about non-manager prep time and effort -- are correct, 29% of the company's work force spends their time focused on reporting about and planning for performance -- instead of, say, performing.

Ford badly needs to change. And, a focus on performance is the surest path to successful change. But constant, overweening attention to metrics and plans do not necessarily equate with a focus on performance.

Say, for example, you wish to lose weight. You set a goal and you'll do well to review your progress against that goal regularly.

But, let's ask this: Would it make sense for you to spend 29% of your weight reduction effort reviewing how're you doing and only 71% actually exercising, eating less and eating more wisely?

Folks often seek to lose weight to reduce the stress in their lives. My hunch is spending 29% of the time worrying over weight loss results would add more stress and reduce less weight than the reverse.

Sure, Ford must set goals and monitor performance.

But 29% of resources stressing out over measuring, reviewing and planning for performance?


That is not performance -- it's performance madness.

Posted by Doug Smith at 05:58 PM | Permalink

Both News And Advertising

"News is what someone wants to suppress. Everything else is advertising,” said Reuven Frank, a former head of NBC news.

Insightful. And, incomplete. Frank's comment reflects the widespread bias for either/or certainity. Either news or advertising. If only things were so simple.

We live in a both/and world. Every item you read, hear, and see -- whether about hunting accidents or credit cards or anything else -- is BOTH news AND advertising.

Why? Because there will be voices, sometimes including your own, wishing to suppress the item. And, there will be voices, sometimes including your own, wishing to promote -- to advertise -- the item.

Which means all of us must connect the content of information with the source of that information if we are to understand it. And, we must look at our own values as we interpret both.

Consider, then, the information regarding the Bush Administration's choice to outsource east coast port security to a company run by the government of the United Arab Emirates. And, the associated information that, prior to September 11th, the UAE government had important ties to terrorists and jihadists, while since 9/11 the government of UAE has taken steps to reduce such ties.

Now, include yourself and ask: For whom is this news? For whom is this advertising? And how do we govern ourselves -- solve our most pressing and complex problems -- when some see this as news and others as advertising? And, how do we do this together?

Posted by Doug Smith at 12:58 PM | Permalink

February 19, 2006

Rearranging Parking Spots At Ford

A few weeks back, on the heels of announcing the loss of tens of thousands of jobs, Ford Motor Company sought to build enthusiasm for it's future by announcing that only Ford-driving employees would be permitted to park near the plants where they work. Hey, you might not have much job security. But, if you buy our products, we'll give you preferential parking.

Now we learn that employees making the Ford choice will also need to trade off the great parking benefit with the potential that, should they become paraplegiacs in a rollover accident, they will be barred from suing Ford by a new federal regulation prohibiting such lawsuits -- an anti-consumer regulation their employer supports.

Earlier posts have pointed out that American auto executives seem transfixed by cost-obsessed strategies for success. Problem is that customers respond to both costs and value. It's no surprise that Ford and GM are smiling at the new regulation. It promises more cost reductions. It may leave customers in wheelchairs; but, it seems, when given a choice between cost and value, the automakers pick cost regardless of the ethical, legal, and -- get this: competitive - concerns that all demand opposition to this atrocious regulation, not support for it.

There is an alternative. A strategy grounded in attending to both cost and value. A strategy that works. Just ask Toyota. For it to work, though, the necessary practices -- including the values demanded -- must characterize all the employees of an auto company as well as their suppliers and dealers. The focus on an integrated concern for both cost and value must permeate the executives -- not just the employees in selected departments -- regardless of where they are allowed to park.

Posted by Doug Smith at 02:11 PM | Permalink

February 17, 2006

Back Story to Next Year's 24

This week's New Yorker has a wonderful review of TV's long running show 24 and it's protagonist Jack Bauer. As fans know, each season, Bauer, with others, defeats terrorists bent on havoc and do so over the course of a single day divided into 24 TV shows, one for each hour (actually, as the NYer points out, closer to 44 minutes to allow for commercials).

Here is a potential blockbuster story for 24's producers to consider for next year's show:

Once some terror alert surfaces for Jack's consideration, we see his colleagues Chloe and/or Edgar quickly use Google video to find footage of David Sanborn, a powerful Treasury executive nodding approval to a staffer who works for the Committee on Foreign Investments, indicating Sanborn's support for what turns out to be a unanimous vote by the Committee in favor of turning over the safety and security operations of several major East Coast U.S. ports to DPW, a company owned by the United Arab Emirates.

Quick cut to a Democratic Senator expressing concern that these ports, already among the major facilities most vulnerable to terrorist attack, might further be endangered by this sale.

Quick flashback to Sanborn as head of operations at DPW, the job he held before taking the job at Treasury.

Quick cut to the current head of port operations for DPW as he (or she) briefs a new employee about the key tasks of integrating the management of the new East Coast ports into DPW's worldwide efforts. (Note to producers, writers and directors: This new employee will turn out to be a key character in next season's show -- someone Jack Bauer will be very concerned about.)

Quick cut to a dinner attended by Sanborn and his current boss, Jack Snow, the Secretary of the Treasury. At the dinner, Snow asks Sanborn about an earlier sale of several other ports to DPW by CSX, the company Snow ran before he became Secretary. Sanborn warmly smiles and tells Snow that the CSX sale was a win/win for the shareholders of all the companies concerned; and, he assures Snow the current deal will work out just as well.

Back to Bauer.

What do you think? Good TV? Would the verisimilitude of seeing real people like Sanborn and Snow help with the believability of the plot? How about if the two deals -- the sale of port operations by CSX as well as the one involving east coast ports -- were real? What if the Committee really did give unanimous consent to the deal?

Who knows? Maybe it could all really happen.

Posted by Doug Smith at 07:50 PM | Permalink | TrackBacks (2)

Science Update

Earlier posts have pointed to the corrosive effects of ideological claims of Truth (with a capital T) on the empirical and democratic (free speech) requirements of science. Whether it's a fascistic young man without any science education dictating science policy or market researchers turning their fact-based findings of their own science on unwanted facts from other sciences, the medium and long term effects remain terrible for our children and their children.

"Though all the winds of doctrine let loose to play upon the earth," wrote John Milton in opposition to censorship by government, "So truth be in the field ... let her and falsehood grapple (because) who ever knew truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?"

Censorship. For too long we've considered it as a concept limited to adult entertainment. But now it operates within a Bush Administration bent on secrecy in all matters -- a Bush administration, to name just one example, whose market research indicates they will win elections by denying global warming and, so, seek to prevent scientists in the employ of the federal government -- that would be in the employ of us as in 'we, the people' -- from putting their concerns about global warming into the open.

Reasonable people deeply hope that the resignation of the young man for lying about his resume will be the harbinger of an end to such censorious behavior.

About which I am reminded of Mr. Darcy's comments (in Pride and Prejudice) when informed by Mr. Wickham that the latter sought three thousand pounds to pursue the law: "I hoped rather than believed it to be the case."

Posted by Doug Smith at 05:32 PM | Permalink

Education and America's Future

Jefferson, like many of the Founders, pinned the fate of American democracy on an educated public. Here is one of his lesser known comments, taken from a letter to John Adams: "I have great hope that some patriotic spirit will... call it up and make education the keystone of the arch of our government."

This week, just such patriotic spirits have launched an effort to fulfill Jefferson's wish by amending the Constitution to guarantee the right to a high quality education to all American students. Other nations have such a right -- but, more than two centuries after Jefferson, America does not.

I'm glad to be working with the folks at Our Education who seek to give voice to students across America in matters that affect their -- and our nation's -- future.

And, I encourage readers to go to their website -- both to sign the petition if young enough and support the effort if you are older.

Posted by Doug Smith at 03:38 PM | Permalink

February 16, 2006

Headline: Some Shareholders Motivated By Self-Interest

The passion for uniformity sometimes induces otherwise sane folks to utter astonishing words. Or so it seems with these comments captured in an article at Institutional Investor about shareholder friendly corporations.

First, the author of the article:

"The presence of some unsatisfied owners at companies otherwise deemed the most friendly to shareholders highlights a growing concern among some institutional investors about the new wave of shareholder activists. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to governance that will ensure that a company is seen as shareholder-friendly, they caution. Although activists may be serving the greater good by drawing attention to corporate performance and governance, they may also prove to be more concerned about their own interests than with broader reforms."

Then an investment officer at Oppenheimer:

"There is a risk that some investors can become self-serving when they talk about governance. I don't think it's particularly shareholder-friendly if, for instance, a company does something at the insistence of the bondholders that disadvantages stockholders or that sacrifices long-term growth for short-term returns."

Then a law school professor:

"These folks are not interested in do-good reforms. Their goal is to make money."

So, let's recap. There's a growing concern among institutional investors about other investors who pursue their self-interest above the greater good. These might include bond holders whose self-interest differs from stockholders. Perhaps most troubling are those sharehoders who have a goal of making money.

From which, we learn that, evidently, money making forms no part of the goal of institutional investors, unless of course those institutional investors hold bonds instead of stocks -- or, perhaps those institutional investors represent or join in with other investors who are pursuing self-interest.

Sound confusing? Well, then, imagine the difficulties in trying to gain a ranking in Institutional Investor's survey of 'shareholder friendly' corporations. All of which recalls Rodney King's famous words put in this different context: "Come on, shareholders. Can't we all just get along?"

Posted by Doug Smith at 03:11 PM | Permalink

February 15, 2006

The Stan Test

Whether you work at a for profit, non-profit or governmental organization, you might want to gather a group of colleagues and take the "Stan Test":

Do you have customers -- whether consumers or businesses -- who have done business with you over the long term?

Would your customers be so shocked and disappointed if you went out of business that they would write you love letters, notes imploring you to get back into business, and, even, offer to finance/buy your business if it would help?

Would your customers' loyalty testify to the quality of your products and the affection, sincerity and personalness of your customer service?

Would you care so much about the work you do and the customers you serve that, after losing a spouse, turning normal retirement age and undergoing heart surgery, you'd decide to go back to 15 hour work days that start at 3 a.m.?

That's the "Stan Test". And at least one business owner, Stan Pascal of Stan's Produce in Los Angeles got an A+ when he took the "Stan Test" in real life.

Posted by Doug Smith at 02:50 PM | Permalink | TrackBacks (1)

February 11, 2006

Competence Is As Competence Does

Any sincere politics directed at governing our complex world of markets, networks, organizations, friends and families would find its way to some minimum threshold of competence as a prerequisite to office. Minimum competence has no partisan home. A person either qualifies by exceeding the minimum threshold or does not.

Minimum competence is also a prerequisite to performance. No matter how much I might like to be an opera singer, I cannot because I lack the minimum competence to perform. Notwithstanding whatever might have been the case with desire or will (or the lack thereof), Mike Brown lacked the minimum competence to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Had it been a private or non-profit organization governed by folks who cared deeply about performance and purpose, Brown simply would never have been hired. Nor, had he participated in mangagement at any level, would his performance be rated at 100% (see earlier post: Yes, this happened.)

All of which raises a variety of questions about the comments made yesterday by Ken Mehlman, the head of the Republican Party, about competence. In a speech to conservative activists, he exclaimed, "We do not and we never should question these Democrat leaders' patriotism, but we do question their judgment and we do question their ability to keep the American people safe," he said. "These are people we know love their country, the question is: Can they protect it?"

Judgment and ability are two critical aspects of competence. According to the head of the Republican Party, every single Democratic leader lacks these two characteristics. Every single one. Somehow this man has evaluated every single Democaratic leader in the United States of America and enthusiastically admonishes conservatives and Republicans -- indeed anyone reading or seeing his quotes -- to distrust the minimum competence of any human being who has the label "Democrat".

So, let's put this in other terms that make the broad generalization understandable. Imagine a person in a powerful position saying, "I don't question the patriotism of women. But I do question their judgment and ability." Or, "I don't question the patriotism of Catholics. But I do question their judgment and ability." Or, "I don't question the patriotism of every employee at Fox News. But I do question their judgment and ability." Or, "I don't question the patriotism of men and women who have served in Iraq. But I do question their judgment and ability." These parallels have nothing to do with the worst aspects of 'political correctness'. They have everything to do with this reality: Human beings have traits. They have gender, race, religion, height..... and they have jobs and affiliations.

Among the other attributes of minimum competence to govern and lead in our complex world of markets, networks, organizations, friends and families is an orientation and capacity for problem solving. Neither you nor anyone you know would hire or happily work with any manager or leader who was utterly lacking in this capacity. Again, we're discussing a minimum threshold. You might currently work with others whose problem solving orientation and capacities fall short in your opinion. But, falling short in general differs from falling below some minimum threshold.

A part of that minimum threshold is this: Problem solving demands inviting and respecting (even if not adhering to) as many points of view as possible. Two heads are better than one. Again, every single one of you have experienced problems that were better solved through multiple view points instead of a single view point.

When Ken Mehlman seeks to involve himself in solving problems of getting Republican candidates elected to office, we can be sure he seeks out many viewpoints. At least with respect to electoral politics, we can be confident he rises above the minimum threshold of competence.

But what about governing itself? What about the minimum competence to deal with the vast array of problems facing government, problems such as providing affordable health care, dealing with hurricanes, rebuilding nations destroyed in wars, educating children, countering terrorists, assuring fiscal responsibility, accounting for money spent, finding and keeping the line between lobbying and corruption, protecting the enviroment and assuring America's respect and standing in the world?

Those are difficult problems demanding the very best in problem solving and, therefore, demading officials who rise above a minimum threshold of competence. They demand openness to many points of view. Ken Mehlman declares himself opposed to this kind of problem solving when it comes to the job of governing America instead of the job of gaining and keeping the power to rule America.

By his own words, he -- and any in his audience who take his words as their leader seriously to heart -- fall below the minimum threshold of competence upon which all of us rely to keep the planet safe, sane and sustainable. Not because Ken Mehlman is a Republican or a man. Rather, because his own beliefs and words evidence his lack of minimum competence. Ken Mehlman declares himself and all who would follow him opposed to any point of view regarding the problems we face if that point of view is linked to a human being who bears the label "Democrat". Based on recent national elections, Ken Mehlman and all who would follow him declare themselves opposed to problem solving that invites and encourages the participation of tens of millions of people.

Based on the track record of the past several years, Mehlman may not be alone in this regard. There was Brown at FEMA. There was Katrina. And, we have also seen poor problem solving on display in a prescription drug program that does not work, a rebuilding effort in Iraq that has basic security and infrastructure woefully broken, an education policy in tatters, a counterterrorism effort more characterized by questionable legality than results or efficiency, an utter lack of fiscal responsibility starting with no accounting for money spent, an increasing line up -- literally of the police type -- of corrupt officials, broad attacks on science that undermine environmental efforts, and an all-time low in America's standing among people around the world.

Every aspect of this atrocious performance record would have benefited from the kind of minimum threhold of competence Mr. Mehlman lacks. These are world class problems we face. We need at least a minimum orientation toward problem solving in those who we elect to govern if we hope to do better than today's tragic track record of bad performance.

Mr. Mehlman, by his own admonishing words, lacks this competence. Or, he is just grandstanding. He is just putting his passion for winning and ruling above his concern for people, values, America and the planet.

Either way, he is dangerous. And, he is spreading his disease of incompetence to others.

Posted by Doug Smith at 12:29 PM | Permalink

February 10, 2006

Measurement, Performance and Credibility

In our new world of markets, networks, organizations, friends and families, the purposes and performance of organizations determine the fate of the planet. Organizations -- whether governmental, non-profit or for profit -- sit at the "mid-level" between massively large contexts such as markets and networks on one side and tiny contexts such as friends and families on the other. Organizations are the crucibles in which people -- in their roles as employees and volunteers -- shape and pursue shared purposes that simultaneously use amassed resources to contribute to the fate of the planet and determine much about the fates of those folks who are employees and volunteers in the organizations. Organizations are 'thick we's' who share fates with others beyond friends and family and whose shared purposes say much about how the common good of those employees contributes to the greater good of the planet.

For all of these reasons, the performance of organizations and how that performance is measured or evaluated is of paramount importance. For example, too many private sector companies evaluate performance strictly in terms of shareholder value -- a fundamentalist ideology every bit as dangerous to the planet as religious terrorism. Just as the best religious and spiritual values are tempered by humility, tolerance and concern for others, so the best financial and economic values are strengthened by equivalent concern for customers, employees, joint venture partners and -- as just stated -- by how the common good of a company contributes, sustainably, to the greater good of the planet.

How, then, is the performance of governmental organizations to be evaluated? Surely there should be some evaluation of the efficiency with which resources are deployed to produce results. In addition, there ought to be a narrative of results -- a narrative of effectiveness -- by which the resources provided by taxpayers and others are used to provide opportunities to the people who work in the government organization (and their joint venture or alliance partners) to provide critical governmental goods and services to folks who need them in ways that inspire confidence by taxpayers and others to continue to provide resources that support opportunities for employees... and on and on and on.

This is a reinforcing cycle of efficient and effective performance. It demands evaluation at each link of the cycle -- evaluation and measurement about the quality of opportuniites provided employees and strategic partners, the goods and services delivered, and the sense and belief by taxpayers and other resource providers that their support is making a difference.

Performance evaluation is hard work, particularly when the parameters are qualitative instead of quantitative. Still, there is a threshold of credibility for such efforts -- a lower limit of 'believability' above which difficult judgement calls must sit to be credible.

So, let's all applaud the possibilities for learning, improvement, transparency and effectiveness within a widespread effort called expectmore.gov to evaluate the performance of governmental organizations. In this effort, hundreds of governmental organizations ('programs') are evaluated through a series of questions provided to those who work in the organization as well as outsiders.

The standards used to translate qualitative questionnaires into a quantitative yardstick are interesting. The best score possible is 100; the worst 0. A governmental program is considered as 'performing' as long as the score is above 50, or "adequate'.

Put differently, the 'performing' vs. 'not performing' distinction rests literally with the 'glass half full', 'glass half empty' line of demarcation.

Okay. Let's accept this as an intelligent starting point to build a culture of accountability and performance in governmental organizations. And I mean that. Decades of experience managing difficult change suggest this is a smart way to start.

Having said that, the low threshold for 'adequate' performance puts a very high premium on credibility of assessment and evaluation. If low grades are 'good enough', then we need to be confident there is no 'grade inflation'.

With this in mind, let's look at what the evaluations tell us. According to the website, 72% of the federal programs are performing and 28% are not.

Among the 72% of programs performing is FEMA -- it received an adequate ('glass half full') rating. In the assessment, FEMA rated a 100% -- a perfect score -- for management. In the section about steps being taken to improve performance, we are told "Reassessing the program to determine strengths and weaknesses in its response to Hurrican Katrina."

It is painful to see this assessment. In our new world of markets, networks, organizations, friends and families we -- and our children and their children -- depend on the performance of organizations to ensure that the future of the planet is safe, sane and sustainable. We must all applaud any credible effort to evaluate the performance of governmental organizations. It's a critical element to the movement begun with the book Reinventing Government.

But, such efforts must be credible. And that means the questionnaires used, the responses given and weighed, the oversight of governmental officials and other methods must pass some minimum smell test of credibility.

FEMA's performance -- in the wake of Katrina -- cannot possibly or credibly be evaluated as "adequate".

That expectmore.gov judges FEMA a performing program casts doubt on the entire edifice of their evaluation efforts.

Go ahead. Use this 'FEMA" standard for your personal and household decisions. I mean it. When you're figuring out what investments to make for your retirement, or how to help your kids choose a college, or what doctors to go to when you are sick -- go ahead, find an evaluation effort that judges the performance of the choices you have and rely on a service that gives 'performing' to an investment choice, a college choice or a medical choice with FEMA's actual track record.

Here's my prediction: You wouldn't do that. You wouldn't put your future in the hands of either an investment, college or doctor as demonstrably incompetent as FEMA -- and you wouldn't rely on any evaluation service that rated such incompetence as performing.

So, how do you regard the money, person power and other resources being put into expectmore.gov?

Does it make you 'expect more'?

Posted by Doug Smith at 02:02 PM | Permalink | TrackBacks (1)

February 08, 2006

Freedom of the Press At The Tribune Company

In our new age of markets, networks, organizations, friends and families, the organizations in which we actively participate are the closest contexts to what we have traditionally meant by the words community and town -- to the experience of sharing meaningful aspects of our fates (political, economic, social and more) with people who are not necessarily friends or family. Organizations can be work-based or volunteer, for profit, not-for-profit, governmental, formal, informal, large, small or otherwise sized. Of these, though, organizations where we work stand out for their importance to our character, our values and our fates. We have much on the line in organizations where we work. And, we have it on the line with others upon whom we depend for our livelihoods, our well being and our actual and not just professed values.

If we wish to understand our actual beliefs and behaviors with regard to any particular value, we need to look at how and whether that value is practiced in the organizations where we work more than the towns and neighborhoods where we happen to reside. In our towns and neighborhoods we are mostly consumers and friends and neighbors. Yes, the shared idea of citizen is powerful and important. We should vote and otherwise participate in local affairs. But democratic practices designed for a world of places require retuning to fit our new 21st century of markets, networks and organizations.

Just do a time and motion study of your life. You do not have time to actively participate in the role of citizen in all the many aspects of local government. Instead, you do have time to be an informed voter -- an informed consumer of local government policy and services. Do that. Be an informaed voter, an informed consumer. But don't kid yourself that somehow you can stop 'bowling alone' if by 'bowling together', you mean governing together some place-based community of folks with whom you actively share fates.

Stop dreaming about places your ancestors used to live with other people. And start taking responsibility for the values of the organizations -- the 21st century 'towns' and 'communities' -- where you actually do share fates with others beyond freinds and family.

Of course, to be an informed voter and an informed consumer, you rely on organizations -- and the people who share fates because they work together in those organizations -- to provide the information you need. That is more likely to happen if there is free speech and free press within those organizations. For decades, for example, there was not free speech or free press within tobacco companies. And, as millions of uninformed consumers died as a result.

All values are hardest to live by when self-interest is vulnerable. For decades, undoubtedly executives and employees of tobacco companies must have worried that information about links between disease and tobacco would hurt their self-interest. So, instead of pay and jobs and wealth, they sacrificed free speech. And that's just a fact. That's just the way it was.

Beyond our own organizations, of all others where we -- as consumers, voters, shareholders, networkers, family members and friends -- ought most to pay attention to free speech and freedom of the press, news-based organizaitons should be high on the list. For example, if you'd like to understand the real values that folks stand for in media companies, look at the values they actually practice where they work. For the folks who work at the Tribune Company in Chicago, the actual and real shared beliefs and behaviors regarding free press and free speech says much more about their character and their values than does their participation as customers in local, state or federal governmental markets.

And so, it's interesting to note what one former Tribune reporter says about the fate of an article on executive pay in a newspaper owned by the Tribune Company -- it was edited to exclude the pay of the top executive at the Tribune Company:

"It started as an assignment to analyze some executive compensation data for the paper’s annual CEO pay section. As I crunched the numbers, it became apparent that FitzSimons’ pay would figure prominently in the article. It seemed like an article we needed to publish, even if it would reflect negatively on the Tribune’s top exec. So I wrote it. My editor signed off on it. The copy desk cleared it and slated it for publication last May. And then, 36 hours before the article was to appear, it was killed. Tribune editors ducked questions about why they hadn’t run the article, and declined to schedule it for publication. As a member of the Trib’s investigative reporting team, I’d often been in the position of demanding answers from public and corporate officials about their conduct. When it became apparent to me, after months of evasive corporate-speak on the FitzSimons article, that the Tribune wasn’t willing to subject itself to the same kind of scrutiny, I resigned."

So, let us ask, "What do the people who work at the Tribune Company really stand for when it comes to freedom of the press and freedom of speech?"

Posted by Doug Smith at 03:17 PM | Permalink

Removing The Deck Chairs From The Titanic

That's what is happening at General Motors. Having cast tens of thousands of families into financial jeopardy, eliminated tens of thousands of jobs, shuttered plants across the country, and reduced health and other benefits for current and prior employess, the weakened auto giant yesterday announced a cut in dividends for shareholders as well as reductions in pay for senior executives and board members. All of which keeps GM steadily on course for disaster. Yes, they've gone beyond rearranging the deck chairs. But, tossing chairs off the sinking ship won't save this ship from sinking.

GM sells cars to customers. That means the company must attend to both the price of those cars and their value. For any market segment -- young people, folks interested in saving the planet, muscle-boys who love power, and so forth -- the prospective auto buyers and leasers weigh feature and function and image against price. Low prices are critically important and lowered costs provide the chance to sustain them. But, value matters too.

Consider Toyota, rapidly overtaking GM as the number 1 auto maker in the world. Toyota moved aggressively several years ago to ensure they were not reliant on a product line up heavy with gas guzzling SUVs. GM didn't. Toyota invested in hybrids. GM didn't. Toyota created and put heft behind cars designed for young adults. GM didn't. Toyota also managed it's costs. Better than GM. But, the key here is that Toyota looked at both sides of the consumer value proposition. GM stayed strictly inside the box on value -- SUV, SUV, SUV, SUV -- and moved slowly on costs. Now, GM is betting strictly on costs.

It still doesn't 'get it' when it comes to the value side of it's products. As previously noted, GM invested heavily in product design and manufacturing flexibility -- that is, the capacity to move quicker to provide new products. It can now bring 15 new products to market quicker than ever before. And, what are the deck chair managers doing with this flexibility. 13 of the new products will be re-designs of full size SUVS.

13 out of 15 are bets on the past.

It's no surprise then that Toyota made billions in 2005 while GM lost billions. Or, that Toyota's market capitalization -- the value shareholders put on the future health and well being of a company -- is $188 billion or 14 times higher than GM's.

If you were a bright, enthusiastic car designer, which company would you want to work for? If you had the talent and energy to have a choice in life about jobs and loved automobiles, where would you want to work?

To be sustainable, any company's performance must deliver value to targeted customers who generate returns to shareholders who provide opportunities to the people of the enterprise who deilver value to cusotmers.... and on and on and on. This cycle of reinforcing performance can be positive (like Toyota's). Or negative. At GM, the board of directors and the executives think they can cost cut their way to prosperity. It won't work. They might be able to toss some chairs off the ship. But, this ship -- the ship they captain -- is sinking.

Posted by Doug Smith at 01:51 PM | Permalink | TrackBacks (1)

February 07, 2006

Best Super Bowl Ad

Kudos to Unilever and Dove soap for this year's best Super Bowl Ad. These ads run just under $90,000 a second. Unilever, a multibusiness unit company whose brands are known the world over, chose to spend it's millions on promoting self-esteem in young girls. It's all part of Unilever/Dove's 'campaign for real beauty' and, no surprise, offered quite a contrast to the the GoDaddy girls and some other car company's knock off of the Peterbilt girl and the cheerleaders on the sidelines and.... well, just about every other female image offered to young girls before, during and after the game.

An earlier post pointed out Unilever's effort to restore the Ben & Jerry's brand to it's original blend of concern for value and values. Congratulations to Unilever for extending the effort to Dove.

Posted by Doug Smith at 01:26 PM | Permalink | TrackBacks (1)

February 05, 2006

Hitler Youth

A 24-year old Republican campaign zealot with neither science credentials nor understanding is setting policy for the National Aeronautic and Space Administration. The policy is directed against the free inquiry and empiricism on which science rests. Put differently, the policy is aimed at destroying science in favor of fundamentalism. The odd thing, of course, is that so many corporate executives and their companies who depend on science for innovation gladly hand over zillions of dollars to support the Republican Party that, in turn, spawns these young fascists. (And, yes, Virginia, just like there is a Santa Claus, there are also 21st century fascists. We must learn to name them if we are to understand them.)

It's all a short term arbitrage. These particular corporate executives -- whose single answer for all questions is build wealth for themselves and their mythical shareholders -- trade money and support for young ideologues whose single answer fundamentalism runs to hate-filled, anti-science, end-of-the-world religion (which, by the way, has nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus Christ whose message and meaning are grounded in love, not hate). It's a devlish bargain. The rich get richer and find it even harder to fit through that famous eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24), while the young end-of-worlders gain power in a Party that has lost it's soul.

Meanwhile, the rest of us watch as the bargainers destroy both value and values. These misguided folks deserve our forgiveness. But we must not confuse forgiveness with support if we are to preserve this planet for our children and their children.

Posted by Doug Smith at 12:17 PM | Permalink | TrackBacks (2)

February 04, 2006


"Give me liberty, or give me death."

-- Patrick Henry rallying support for independence from the English military in 1775

“I would only point out that you really don’t have any civil liberties if you’re dead.”

-- Senator Pat Roberts rallying support for unlimited military power of the Commander-in-Chief in 2006

Posted by Doug Smith at 01:53 PM | Permalink | TrackBacks (1)

February 03, 2006

Accuracy and Truth

When we share an understanding about roles such as customer and employee (or parent and child), the values we share -- the predictability of our beliefs and behaviors -- rises. For example, when you walk into a clothing store, there are a variety of highly predictable beliefs and behaviors that you as customer and those who, as employees, serve you can count on. These are shared values. The shared roles of customer and employee influence those shared values. They help explain predictable belief and behavior and do so without comment on whether those values are 'good' or 'bad' or anything in between.

Shared relationships also are highly predictive of shared values (again, whether 'good' or 'bad'). When you persistently interact with others known to you by name in some open ended way, the values you and they share -- the pattern of belief and behavior -- become predictable. At home or work these values might explain who makes what kind of effort, how you respond to certain situations or opportunities, what your shared beliefs and behaviors are with respect to decision-making, faith, the environment and more.

Shared relationships and shared roles are two of the most powerful determinants of shared values. Another are shared ideas. Consider the shared idea of 'red state' and 'blue state'. This idea has spread across our new world of markets, networks, organizations, friends and families to fuel any number of beliefs and behaviors. For example, it is highly predictive of the way media employees approach a wide array of stories. You personally may not like that, or you may. You might think it 'good' or 'bad'. But as a predictor of some shared values, the shared idea of 'red state/blue state' exists and does explain much of what happens in the media.

Unlike the world of places in which our grandparents and their grandparents lived, shared ideas have much broader potential influence in our new world of markets, networks, organizations, friends and families. I say potential because, before any shared idea might shape shared values, there must be awareness. If the 'red state/blue state' idea had never been so widely aired in the media, it quite simply wouldn't have become so powerful a shaper of shared values.

Consider, for example, the idea of 'water ice in comets'. It is a shared idea that shapes certain behaviors and beliefs among some scientists. In all likelihood, however, it has zero influence on the shared values of you and folks you know because you've never really heard about and, if you have, you've pretty much forgotten it.

Now, imagine for a moment that people well set up to spread ideas through the media -- people who work with media companies that have large audiences, people in powerful positions in government and corporations, and so forth -- decided that water ice in comets was important. In making that choice, of course, they would need to have some explanation for its importance. All of us in this new world of markets, networks and organizations are quite busy. Our attention comes at a premium - and if folks in media, governmental and corporate organizations wish us to pay attention to water ice in comets, they'll need to explain why.

So, let us assume they do. Let us assume, for the moment, that the explanation is "X". "Water ice in comets is important to all of you because of X". And, let's assume these organizations and the people in them succeed. A concerted campaign is made over the next three to six weeks through media, governmental and corporate (and, perhaps also certain 'interest group' organizations such as the Heritage Foundation or MoveOn) and we all wake up this coming Spring sharing the idea that 'water ice in comets is important because of X'.

Now, let's talk about truth and accuracy. By the standards of strongly shared ideas, most of us who bought into this whole thing would believe "Water ice in comets is important" to be the truth-- especially in a culture in which shared ideas spread through markets, networks and organizations have become so powerfully oriented to ideology (compare 'red state/blue state'). "Truth" as a shared idea that influences shared values comes dressed more and more as ideology -- as repeated opportunities for us to affirm what we stand for, who we are, what we believe.

What about accuracy? Is the statement "Water ice in comets is important because of X" an accurate statement?

Well, you don't know, do you? Because I've written "X" as opposed to any specific content. You do not know whether the statement is accurate. But what you do know is that our shared experience in the world of markets, networks, organizations, friends and familes predicts that -- so long as X is not ridiculously inaccurate -- there would be widespread shared belief and behavior that 'water ice in comets is important' -- that the importance would be held as truth.

In light of this phenomenon, the standards for what might pass as 'accurate enough' to get believed become quite important. Consider, for example, this news item about a lawsuit against the former head of the Bush Admiinstation's Enivornmental Protection Agency who, immediately after September 11th, used all the power of government and media to assure people the air quality was safe enough for them to return to their homes and apartments in the areas affected by the terrorist attacks. That became a powerful shared idea -- both for the folks who lived in lower Manhattan and, probably for a brief time, for folks around the country. "The air quality is safe enough" became the 'truth'. But, it turns out it wasn't accurate.

Or, consider this. In his State of the Union address this week, the president declared his administration and his party were intent on reducing the nation's dependence on oil through, among other things, investing in alternative energy technologies. That is now a widely shared idea. It is the truth -- at least among people (in red states? 'red' people in 'blue states'? children?) who have a shared value -- a predictable pattern of belief and behavior -- to credit what a president of the United States announces in a State of the Union address.

Was it accurate? Well if behavior must match belief in order for accuracy to be claimed, perhaps not. A day after the speech, funding for key alternative energy efforts was cut.

Later in the week, the House of Representatives passed legislation reducing health, education and other spending aimed at alleviating difficulties faced by the poorest Americans. The shared idea here is "fiscal restraint". That is what is syndicated as 'truth' in our markets, networks and organizations.

But is it accurate? The fiscal savings involved here are but a tiny fraction of 1% of the budget deficit and an absolute dollar amount quickly canceled out by other spending increases in a government that has generated record-breaking deficits. In a language that values 'accuracy', it's hard to apply the description 'fiscal restraint' accurately to the Bush Adminstration. That's just 'what is' -- it's about predictable beliefs and behaviors -- about values shared by those in the federal government and elsewhere whether or not any of us think it is 'good', 'bad' or 'in between'.

Ideas cannot become shared ideas without some awareness of those ideas. You and others will not share beliefs and behaviors regarding water ice in comets without first having awareness. But, in an age of markets, networks and organizations, we all can and do become aware of ideas without regard to their accuracy. Our understanding --even if completely inaccurate and wrong -- can and does lead to shared ideas and shared values. When this happens, truth deviates from accuracy. We share ideas and accept them as truth even though they are inaccurate.

All of which suggests that our future and the future of our children and others around the globe will become more sustainable when our markets, networks, organizations, friends and families put more effort into the shared idea of accuracy than the shared idea of truth.

Posted by Doug Smith at 01:26 PM | Permalink

February 01, 2006

What Do People Who Work at CNN Really Stand For?

The employees and executives who work at CNN are a thick we -- a 21st century community whose shared purposes and goals, shared roles and relationships in the company and shared ideas shape and determine their character as human beings. During their workday, CNN employees and executives depend on one another for significant aspects of their fates as people -- from their material well-being in the form of wages and benefits to friendships and social affiliation to their pursuit of meaning and fulfillment. If they or anyone wishes to understand the values -- the character -- of what CNN employees and executives 'stand for', the best evidence lies in their collective beliefs and behaviors. A reliable guide can be found in what the CNN brand stands for -- what blend of the pursuit of value (money, profit, wealth) and the pursuit of values such as objectivity, accuracy, free inquiry, dialogue and so forth.

Like others in this new world of markets, networks, organizations, friends and families, people who work at CNN might think -- mistakenly -- that what happens at CNN is just 'a job'. That the decisions, actions, beliefs and behaviors on display from "9-to-5" are merely 'what happens at work" and bear little if any relationship to what they as human beings stand for and the nature of their character. This is a profound misunderstanding of the nature of being in a world of markets, networks, organizations, friends and family -- in a world where our core experience of sharing fates with folks other than friends and family happens in organizations -- not places.

When folks who work at CNN go home to their families, their kids and their friends, they must seek to integrate their work and home lives, not separate and isolate them if they are to avoid our unique form of 21st century schizophrenia. What happens at work speaks volumes about their character as people -- and speaks that to their kids and others, not just their co-workers.

With that in mind, let's ask the people who work at CNN about their values, about their belief and behavior in support of democracy, civility, the rule of law, family and tolerance as demonstrated in the recent choice to provide a talk show platform to a fellow named Glenn Beck. According to a spokesperson -- a person from CNN who speaks on behalf of you, the employees and executives of CNN, who speaks about what you really stand for, Beck was hired not because CNN 'wanted any political point of view or ideology', but rather because 'We set out to hire an entertaining, engaging talk show host, and his brand of humor and lighthearted approach was one we liked."

The 'we' here are you -- you, the people of CNN. This spokesperson is speaking on behalf of you and what you stand for. So, when you get home tonight, pull your kids together, invite over some good friends, and explain to them how thrilled you are to have Glenn Beck as a co-worker. In addition to his light humor and lack of any political ideology, go ahead and tell your kids about how, as a radio talk show host in Philadelphia, he "called victims of Hurricane Katrina "scumbags," said "It took me about a year to start hating the 9/11 families," called Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, "a pretty big prostitute," and said, "I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could."

Tell your kids the values you really stand for.

Posted by Doug Smith at 12:24 PM | Permalink