Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How do we measure business success?

How do we measure personal success? I've discussed in this blog that so many leaders assume that employees measure their success by their paycheck, when in fact, people focus on this metric only when it's raise time or when they hear other people are earning more than they. What about businesses? Isn't profit the obvious metric for the success of a business?

Not according to our youngest graduates: "92% of millennials say in a survey that a company's success should be measured by more than profit." What metric are they using?

They are looking at the business' influence and impact on society and the environment. They have higher standards than those currently running those businesses. What behavior will they force on their employers and in what ways can we expect a better world as they develop in their careers?

Monday, March 19, 2012

What is the purpose of a business?

One of my favorite HBS professors, Earl Sasser, asked that question of our class (in 1989) . A student replied that it was to provide a return to our shareholders commensurate with the risk they accepted.

Professor Sasser said, "Providing value to shareholders is one purpose of a business, but it is only one. And as a purpose it comes after these: to provide value to the communities within which it operates, to its employees, and to the larger world."

A hush fell over the classroom and I realized that no one had thought of that before. I figured it must be important so I wrote it down on a little piece of paper, put it in the briefcase I bought at graduation, and carried it for at least 10 years -- until the briefcase was destroyed in a flood.

Today's new graduates are less likely to be as shocked by Professor Sasser's assertion that businesses are not solely about investor returns. In a survey of more than 1,000 of its employees born after 1981, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu found that when respondents were asked to name three terms that encapsulate the purpose of business, 51% cited societal development and only 39% cited profit.

What are the implications for a society that sees the advancement of that society as the main purpose of daily life (which, really, is what business encapsulates for the vast majority of people -- it is our daily life to open our stores, teach students, raise crops, build cars, etc.)?

I can't wait to see.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

We are teachers all the time . . .

How powerful are models? Very powerful. The folks at Crucial Skills provide a great example: They sent a researcher to cut in a long line at the movie theater in front of another research associate who was pretending to wait in line. The research associate politely said, "I'm sorry, perhaps you're unaware. We've been standing in line for half an hour." The line cutter apologized and moved to the end of the line.

How did this modeling change others' behavior?

"We then waited a few minutes and cut in front of the person who was standing just behind our research associate who spoke up. Would the subjects take their cue from the person who said something? . . . 85 percent of the observers said the exact same thing when one of our colleagues cut in front of them.

Demonstrating a simple, polite, and apparently effective script provided observers with the motive to step up to a problem they normally would have avoided. Individuals who would normally have said nothing, once exposed to a positive example now spoke their minds."

When someone speaks over others in a meeting at work (the equivalent of cutting the line), speak up! Respectfully and calmly say, "I'd like to hear the rest of So 'n So's comments and then hear yours. Would you please let her finish?" You will find that most everyone in the room not only appreciates it, but are willing to step in the next time.

How about you? Have you ever seen people take important actions to help a group overcome an individual's misbehavior? Has that action led to others' actions that support the group's working together?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Pick up the phone!

When you must communicate something emotional, pick up the phone or, if possible, arrange a face-to-face meeting.

"In one study participants thought that their sarcasm would be communicated 80% of the time. Face-to-face this was accurate, but over email the actual figure was 56%.

This overconfidence was also seen when people tried to communicate anger, sadness, seriousness and humour in an email. Without body language cues, it's hard to communicate more than literal meanings."

While emoticons are fun and can be helpful, they do not convey the breadth of emotion we convey in our body and facial language. If you must criticize, complain, or negotiate, try to get a face to face meeting with the other party. If that's not possible, at least use the phone where tone of voice cues help convey emotion. As a last resort, try a visual email tool, such as eyejot.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Every email costs 1 minute of distraction (in addition to reading and response time)

In a report of several studies of email use, presents compelling reasons to limit email use:
1) every time we open an email, we need at least a minute to get our minds back to what we were working on previously
2) we open email far more frequently than we believe we do, with most people checking email every 5 minutes.

The report says we spend 23% of our work day checking email, or 110 minutes in an 8-hour work day. I'm not sure how many discreet emails this assumes, so I can't estimate how many minutes we spend getting our minds back into the task we were focused on before we opened email. However, I'm betting it's close to an hour.

Use email as a effectiveness and efficiency tool, not as a drain on your time and energy, by setting your email notification to 45 minutes rather than 5 (or immediate!) and disciplining yourself to check email only then.

Let me know how this works for you!

Monday, March 5, 2012

noncash motivators are more effective than financial incentives

"Three noncash motivators—praise from immediate managers, leadership attention and a chance to lead projects or task forces—are . . . even more effective motivators than the three highest-rated financial incentives: cash bonuses, increased base pay, and stock or stock options" according to the McKinsey Quarterly.

As managers we must use these motivators -- we are responsible for creating the context and exploiting opportunities that provide opportunities to employees to lead visible and valuable projects, and for noticing when employees do great work (and therefore praising and giving attention to those employees).

Managers and leaders establish the conditions that enable a person to access his internal motivation by demonstrating non-characterizing, direct, and specific appreciation and by coaching employees whenever possible.

1Dewhurst, M., Guthridge, M., & Mohr, E. (2009, November). Motivating people: Getting beyond money. Retrieved February 25, 2012, from McKinsey Quarterly :

Friday, March 2, 2012

Have a habit you want to break?

If you have a habit you want to break, the key is figuring out the cues that tell your brain to start engaging in whatever the behavior is. According to Charles Duhigg in a NY Times article, "experiments have shown that most cues fit into one of five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people or the immediately preceding action.

When the urge strikes to engage in whatever bad habit you are in, ask yourself:
  1. Where am I?
  2. What time is it?
  3. How do I feel?
  4. Who else is around or what just happened?
Once you have a few data points recorded, you may see patterns. Break the pattern(s), and you are more likely to succeed in breaking the habit. Always smoke after an argument? Try going for a walk. Always eat tortilla chips while watching a football game? Watch the game at a different location -- perhaps a room in which you never eat, or with friends who aren't into salty snacks.

Let me know if it works!