Archives for posts with tag: leadership

Hey folks I’m back!

After a short time of illness, I’m ready to pick up the metaphorical baton again and sprint toward the finishing line of improving your understanding of what really works and doesn’t in the world of strategic management.

This week I want to talk to you about corporate strategies. What are they?  Well, in my career I’ve been involved in several of these and generally speaking they’re a means through which a company tries to appear to itself and indeed to others that t knows what it’s doing. Often great efforts are made, a prolonged consultative process, based on large amounts of second rate analysis, and a hellish drafting process results in a document that is of so little value that it is placed on a website, shelved in the CEO’s office and those of the senior managers, but quickly forgotten by everyone who had the great misfortune to be involved.

God bless strategic planning!

Like all strategies or plans, it becomes irrelevant through the actual process of creating it – just setting it down on paper seems to have an almost supernatural ability to render it completely irrelevant and useless. Why is this? What’s going on here? What can we learn from this?

Well the first thing to learn is that some things in business are better left unspoken, especially if they’re already working quite well in an organic and unintended organization (most medium to small companies).  Suddenly trying to capture and codify all of that (vision, mission, objectives, indicators, projects and programme with outputs and deliverables and all that jazz) forces individuals to suddenly face up to these issues and choices, realizing in the process that they are so far removed from most of their peers, both in their thoughts and attitudes, that their confidence in the very company is shaken and they regard to strategy as a manifesto of the stupids.

And so the plan, the strategy, whatever it is, is rejected by its authors, forgotten, and everyone forgets or rejects it for a different reason. But that’s not important, the important things is that most people on the organization will want nothing to do with it.  There will be exceptions of course, many companies have an Ivy League poindexter who will wail and moan about your failure of manage the strategy, you may also have something even worse, the autodidact who got his MBA online and grasped all the details but say none of the big pictures – he/she’ll drive you crazy too.

So what’s to be done?

The secret is to go with the flow, remember what you value about your work, remember what you care about and get up in the morning for, and screw everyone else and their plans.  You don’t need plans to get results, you need winners.

Be a winner, not a planner.

That’s right, we’ve all been there, you look around at the people working under your management one day and realize that for the most part they’re losers who’ll never make anything of themselves.

Ok… I exaggerate a little but most managers will admit there is some truth in this and…. now I have your attention losers!

So what does this mean for talent management in your organization and how can you ever hope to fulfill a meaningful leadership role when these people clearly don’t even care about themselves very much and they’re apathy is infecting you and everyone around you?

Well, as those of you who’ve worked with me before will know, the WINCAN technology (managing the interface between talent and complexity, innovation and strategy) answers many of these problems, but a blog is not the place to get into those or for me to harp on about WINCAN.

Let’s just take a basic look at what it means if you’re a manager who feels his/her staff are unworthy of your leadership, what are the key questions?

1. Did you recruit them yourself?  Let’s be honest many times leaders and managers take over a team and decide that they’re all worthless nobodies because they’re replacing someone who had fundamentally different professional values and priorities and built a team in that image as a reflection of their own vision of how a team should and can work. You may be quite different and if this is the case I urge you to seek the help of a HR professional for some expert tips on turning things around.  The most important take-away though is that you should take the time to turn things around because if you do, the loyalty they will have for you will greatly exceed that which you can hope to get from a new recruit!  it’s also a great challenge and real leaders love challenges!!

2. Could I be projecting my own feelings of insecurity and phoniness onto them?  This is surprisingly common so take a look at yourself and see if there’s even a grain of truth in this. Many leaders reach middle age and experience something of a trough, I myself experienced one when I briefly worked in biotech in South East Asia in the late 90s.  Maybe, like me back then, you are really just in the throes of a midlife crisis and an existential/professional (is there a word for the place where these two things combine – future blog post perhaps) dilemma. Maybe your negative feelings about yourself, bubbling under your that thick crust of managerial machismo, are causing you to project your anxieties and fears about yourself onto your staff. It happened to me! It was only after a huge argument with one of my less-important domestic staff that I began to see sense but by then things had gone too far and no-one was receptive to my team bonding sessions.  Be a better guy than me and don’t let it get too far!!

3. Can I still lead them and if so how? Let’s say you’ve given this a lot of thought and even sought out a second opinion (an expert, not someone in a bar – I’m looking at you Bob!) and you’re as sure as can be that they’re a pretty useless bunch – totally unsuited to the tasks at hand, is there anything can be done?  Yes, of course you can fire them and in many cases this is the best thing to do, as a leader you main job is to lead irrespective of whether the people you’re supposed to be leading are inclined or capable of following.   Many of you may be reluctant to fire some or all of then in the current economic climate and in this situation you should consider innovative approaches to identifying the source of their idiocy and redirecting it at each other rather than at work tasks (I’ll have another blog post soon on how exactly to do this, there’s also a chapter in my forthcoming book).  It sounds fantastical but with a good HR strategy you can redirect their inefficiencies toward their personal and social lives within just a few months.

I hope that’s given some of you ideas, this is a common problem these days with so many mid-level leaders switching around in a few key sectors where personal style plays such a big role in shaping the culture and ethos of small (<25) teams.

I’d love to hear any thoughts/comments/experiences!


Complexity Rocks!

Complexity Rocks!

That’s right!

Folks this is where the smart people are placing themselves as we move into the middle of the second decade of the 21st century.

But what in the name of Herbert Hoover does it mean? And is it new?

Well, let’s look at what we’re seeing here as the wheels of corporate wisdom turn and turn and with them the profiles of people churn and churn.

Let’s think firstly at talent, what do we mean by this?  Is it just the people who can do the job for you? No, of course not, we should never confuse real talent with hard-working proles,  that’s the role of the public sector. If you’re really out there and your ass (and mortgage) is on the line you don’t just need the guy/gal who can “do the job” for you, what you need is the person who can do it better than your competitor.

The talent you need is the person who can out-think and out-grow your competitors and his or her talent.  Does this mean they work hard?  Hell no!  I’ve never met a really hard-working talented person in my life!  They’re talented because they don’t have to work hard and they don’t have to work hard because they’re talented. People who work really hard can be very successful and valuable but not because they’re talented – because they’re just smart enough to know they’re not talented and that they have to work hard. That’s all!

The power of really, genuinely honest-to-God talented people, their magic, lies in being able to shift the ground of corporate expectation with just a few well chosen, and usually self-interested words.  What do I mean? I mean that when they see something is too complex they can make it simple enough to manage and understand for others, and, even more importantly, when they can see that something is too simple, they can turn it into something complex enough to give their peers plenty of leverage and entry points to get engaged in finding solutions and plotting a course forward.

This is real talent.

The guy working late on a Saturday night, he’s not your talent, unless you consider ass-kissing a talent. Let him carry on working late on Saturda’s, after all someone’s gotta kiss ass, but don’t think for a second that this guy is your talent because you let this knucklehead actually do some strategic planning and you’ll be harvesting plastic bottles from dumpsters within  18 months.

But what about complexity? Surely “managing complexity” is what we want our talent to do? Isn’t that what they’re good at? Yea, they’re good at managing complexity because it’s usually a complexity of their own making!  Don’t get me wrong, complexity happens no matter what you do, but you can’t let it emerge organically from the collective fumblings of your company’s knuckleheads.  You need your talent to be creating complexity with deliberation and forethought, if they’re not the ones defining it, setting its outer limit and explaining it to others, then they’re just not the talent a strong company needs. They’re fakers and should be working in your communications department where their skills can actually help.

That’s it for today folks but I can guarantee this is a topic I’ll be coming back to soon. Nothing gets me more passionate than talent and complexity!

Yes, that’s right! I said dislike of others.  We’ve all heard how important it is to have empathy and a pastoral streak in order to allow us to connect with our people and lead them on to greater and more profitable things. But not everyone’s like that right?

Me? Well I’m old enough to have seen my attitudes to my fellow man change a lot over time (you may remember my last post on the links between sexual prowess and leadership touching on this issue). And despite the fact that I would say normally I’m quite caring or at least ambivalent to people, I’ve also gone through stages of being genuinely skeptical about the essential worth of other people and the added value that they bring to the human project.

So did that stop me from being a good leader?

I’d like to think the answer is no.

This isn’t that old canard about whether you’d prefer to be a popular leader or a feared leader. Screw that!  A good leader is both liked and feared.  No my friends,  this is about whether YOU can manage these people when at best you don’t really give a damn about them and at worst the very sight of them makes you nauseous and despair for humanity’s future.

So you can’t sterilize your staff, but can you still lead them on to greater performance? Can you manage complexity and talent when you just wish they’d all leave the building and go somewhere secluded to die?  Can you make them walk the final mile for you when all you really want them to walk is a short plank off a high cliff?

Well, for me the answer has always been an emphatic ‘yes’. So what’s the secret?

Well, there is none, I don’t have any answers, all I have is a basic wisdom borne of experience.

You see, the great falsehood at the heart of leadership is that you are doing it in order to lead everyone involved to a better place, that together you are all moving in lock-step to a place of greater prosperity.  This is a lie, a convenient lie, but a lie nonetheless.  You can certainly lead this way.  Hell, even believe it yourself if you have to, but it’s really not essential.

If you’re managing people who you despise, the trick is to simply see them as barely animate tools that are at your disposal to create whatever you want for your own ends – not for theirs or for any cockamamie ‘shared objective’.

In fact, making them work late, putting their personal lives on hold, treating their egos and feelings of self-worth as levers for generating greater performance – all of these things become far more powerful and rational acts of management when you actively dislike the people you’re dealing with. So stop pretending you care about them! Your lies are helping no one.

A short vignette before I stop, I was running a small costume jewelry wholesaler in southern Utah for a short while in the mid-80s and I think it’s fair to say I really disliked the four members of my team, but did it work? Why hell yes, I quadrupled profits. How? By running those SOBs into the ground month after month, that’s how. I could never have done that if I’d liked even one of them!

Now before I stop, a word of caution. I’m not saying this is the best way to lead, just that this is a way to get around the tricky problem of working in a situation where you hate the folks in your team.

Anyone else got any wisdom to share on this? Honest opinions and experiences only please!

Great men (and women!) do great things, but it seems like more and more often we are finding out that they also do dumb things, and this happens with even greater predictability when the human penis is an influential stakeholder in the decision-making process.

So what does this tell us about leadership?  Why do so many leaders come undone when their flies are undone?

Well, despite having led several companies and countless teams in my 25 year career, I can honestly say I’ve never penetrated a colleague, and I’m not just saying that because my wife reads this blog, although she does and if I had done something wrong, I’d probably lie anyway. But in this case it’s the truth,  I take my vows and my pension very seriously.   So sadly, that means I can only speculate, like many of you, on why so many great leaders find find their careers shipwrecked on the rocky shoreline of a collaborator’s engorged genitals.

What I can tell you is that there are some basic tips that should help you, as an aspiring leader, to not have your career somewhere the road by an illicit liaison.

Risk Mitigation Factor #1: Do you think you’re a go-getter? Does that include going and getting sexual partners? If so, then you may want to build an affair-risk mitigation strategy into your HR policies. That isn’t to say you should only hire ugly people, no one wants them, but rather you should ensure you manage in the interests of your organization and try to be sensible in developing HR profiles that are less likely to put a highly suitable sexual partner in proximity to you, or at least in situations with you that may prove tempting to either party.  Of course, this may not be possible but if you can’t eliminate the risk posed by motive (sexual attraction) , then you have to minimize opportunity. It’s one thing to attend a meeting together or collaborate on a project but try to avoid naked drunken saunas on that business trip to Vegas!

Risk Mitigation Factor #2: Have regular sex with the people you’re supposed to be doing it with! That’s right, if you’re getting satisfaction from the normal sources (spouse, partner, self) then you’re probably relieving the pressure that can build up over time, leading to a reckless eruptions of passion with someone less appropriate and in places that are less appropriate.  So have sex you leaders, you captains of industry.  Hell, even thought leaders are often very busy  – but just do it. It’s good for the company and it’s good for you, so make time.

Risk Mitigation Factor #3: Therapy! Sadly many of our greatest leaders, and this could include you,  experience human relationships, and that includes sex, in a way that is predominantly defined by their life experiences and the effect this had had on their psychological make-up.  Of course, often the thing that makes a leader so great is the very same thing that makes him or her so sexually voracious and acquisitive. So why not try a shrink to see if you can somehow treat the defective parts of you that present either personal or corporate risk, while retaining the defective parts of you that make you should a great leader and a maker, rather than a taker.

Well, that’s all I got for now, anyone else got any ideas on managing risk and safeguarding leadership in an increasingly sexual world?

Firing a good friend is never easy and it doesn’t get that much easier no matter how many times you do it. The first time I had to fire a buddy was over twenty years ago and we’re still really close on Facebook so although you often lose friends that you have to let go, it doesn’t always happen (not least because they’ll hold out a faint hope of being re-hired). So while it doesn’t get much easier, over the years I’ve picked up a few things that can at least make the act of firing a pal go a lot smoother and empower you to go through with it.

1. No such thing as “best practice”: Well this one speaks for itself. Don’t be taken in by books or websites or HR gurus telling you that there’s a best way to fire your friend, there isn’t. Not only is every situation different but every friend is different, so take each case as it comes and concentrate on the idea of good practice, not “best” practice.

2. Remember it’s not your fault!: Sure, you may be the one who made the ultimate decision to fire your friend but if they know that you’re charged with monitoring their performance and they’re not doing the business, meeting targets and out-performing peers, then what does that say about their respect for you? This person clearly doesn’t value your friendship all that highly or they wouldn’t put you in the position of having to do this? Ask yourself the question, would they do this to their own child? No? Well then what makes them think they can do it to you!? You must refuse to take the burden of guilt that they’re trying to put on your loyal shoulders.

3. Fire friends on a Monday, never a Friday: This one I had to find out the hard way! Most companies will do their firing on Friday, preferably Friday afternoon to minimize the possibilities for disruption. This is especially important if the company is notifying the staff member of contract termination weeks or months ahead, and wants to give them a couple of days to calm down. So it makes sense, most of the time, but not when firing a friend. The last thing you need is to fire a pal on the Friday and end up running into them on the ninth hole on Saturday morning or at some kid’s birthday party in Chucky Cheese on the Sunday – all before he or she has had a chance to calm down and start blaming himself for everything instead of you. So you’ve got to do the friend-firing on a Monday, Tuesday at the latest, so they have the whole week in the office to calm down before you risk a combustible social situation at the weekend.

4. Be angry, not sympathetic, at least until they apologize: While I don’t like to force you hand, and as I’ve already said, there’s no such thing as best practice, you should strongly consider the benefit of appearing angry, or even better actually being angry, with your friend when you’re firing them. This will allow you to maintain control of a situation that you normally don’t need to worry about losing, but are now more vulnerable to because of your closeness to the person you’re firing. Normally when firing someone, it’s choreographed and scripted to make you sound logical, empathetic but just a little dispassionate. With a pal, this could blow up in your face as your friend will justifiably expect to see some emotional response from you and will probably hope to see you conflicted. The big danger is that either wittingly or unwittingly you display sadness at having to fire them, as this will make you look weak, thus empowering them in the meeting and (nightmare scenario) giving them hope that they can somehow ‘talk you round’.

5. Practice, practice, practice: That’s right, just like with people you don’t really care for, it’s vital that you spend adequate time in front of the mirror getting this right. Don’t trust your spouse, or any other friend, with this news, so don’t practice with them. Just lock yourself in a room with a mirror or video recording device and practice firing your friend over and over again until it’s the most natural thing in the world. The important thing here is to really take the chance to look at yourself and assess what your body language, tone and facial expression is saying. I once got my HR manager to do this (you’d think he’d know better!) and he only then realized how his voice would rise over an octave in tone when he was firing former military people (and we were manufacturing mini humidifiers – pre-Lehman Brothers btw. – so there were quite a few of them).

6. Never pass an opportunity for professional development: No matter what you do there’s always a chance that after firing a friend you’ll go home that night and feel bad, or conflicted, about the whole thing. You may even wonder what it was all about and whether there was any point. So bear in mind the affect that all of this is having on your personal development. Regardless of whether you are taking it in your stride or suffering in some way, you are professionally developing every single day, and this day was no different.  Focus on the personal positives, not the collateral negatives, that’s what marks out the winners!

7. Think strategic!: The one thing I haven’t mentioned so far is that I myself (yes, me!  Trent Meyerson) was once fired by a friend. But you know what? I didn’t mind at all. Why? Because that s.o.b. taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life. It turns out that he’d found out a while before that he was going to have to fire me, but rather than rush into it and, god help us all, “get it over with“, he took his time and weighed up his options. A week later he called me into his office and told me I was going to have to fire a friend of mine, that it was hard, but that we all had to do it sometime. Like a good lieutenant I did as I was directed and fired my buddy Dave. Afterwards my boss/friend asked me how I was doing and I told him just fine. A week later it was me getting a call to come into his office and the old dog gave me the bad news. Now that’s a strategic thinker and you could do worse than follow his example, although I’ve often wondered if Dave was just an innocent by-stander in the whole thing, a pawn sacrificed in a game he would never comprehend. Rest in peace old buddy!

Well, how about you? Anybody out there got something to add?