HBR: How Smart Managers Build Bridges

How do you manage conflict?  Are you improving your relationships with your directs? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Charalambos Vlachoutsicos

How Smart Managers Build Bridges

What do you do when the other person simply won’t budge from an entrenched position in which they have a great deal of personal and professional commitment? How do you bridge the gap between your position and his?

Most people try to win the other person over to their point of view by argument. The trouble is, in many cases they don’t have all the facts to fully understand why the other person doesn’t agree. What’s more, the gap may be down to differences in values or cultures that are not particularly amenable to reasoned arguments. Whatever the source of the differences or gaps, when you can’t win by reason, you start to get angry at what you see is the other person’s lack of it, which gets mirrored, and so the gap only gets wider.

The key to avoiding this dynamic is to stop trying to get the person to change and instead get them to open up. The information you get may well encourage you to moderate your own position and thus open the way for a mutually advantageous cooperation. Make them understand your constraints and get them to see what they have to gain by what you propose.

Of course, sometimes, no amount of understanding is going to get the other person to budge and you’re going to have to force progress. At this point, you have to work to bridge the gap in such a way that their main concerns are accommodated so that you can communicate and cooperate productively in spite of and within the limits of your differences. Typically, this involves talking responsibility for the action you wish to make while being prepared to share the payoff and the credit.

Once the gap is actually bridged and you move forward you will pretty soon see that your interactions generate change. Through the give and take of communication, all sides come to feel that at least some of the differences between them are actually smaller and easier to live with than they appeared to begin with.

I built perhaps my first managerial bridge when, fresh out of HBS, I joined our family’s business. Immediately on joining I realized that our warehouse constantly remained out-of-stock of at least five of the thirty-odd products our company carried. This not only caused a loss of sales of the items missing but also had negative repercussions on the sales of all of our products because it drove many customers into our competitors’ arms.

I went to our warehouse and met with the manager who was a very loyal, trustworthy person who had worked with us for many years. He was about 60 years old, knew all our clients personally and had a wide network of potential clients in the market. I asked him why he believed we faced this problem.

He answered that it was because our suppliers took a long time to deliver our orders and, given the global nature of our supply chain, there was nothing we could do about it. I talked to him a little about the notion of forecasting what amount of each product we would need to carry as minimum stock, in order to cover our sales during the time required between the date of placing our order and the date it would reach us.

His reaction was fierce: “If you want predictions go to the Oracle of Delphi,” he told me. “In Greece we do not know what will happen from one day to the next, so we cannot make predictions of how much of each product we will sell.” He would not budge.

Faced with this attitude, I stopped trying to get him to change. Instead, I asked for a worker, some red paint, a brush, and a wooden ladder. I obtained from the accountant the average monthly sales of each product, added a security margin of 20%, converted this quantity to the volume of space required for each product, and drew on the wall a thick red line at the point where the pile would probably be enough to cover sales of the product until our next order arrived.

I assured the manager that I respected his view that predictions in Greece were risky and — this was critical — assured him that the head office would take responsibility for whatever risks were entailed by my attempts to forecast “All you have to do is, whenever you see a red line appearing on the wall behind the stack of any product, is inform me”. Finally, I promised him a bonus for each day our warehouse carried stocks of all our products.

The immediate impact, of course, was fewer stock-outs. But the longer-term and more important benefit from the improvement was that the warehouse manager and I started talking more. He took to visiting me at my Athens office and to ask my opinion on other problems our Piraeus shop faced and to make useful suggestions on how best to address them. Thanks to my action in bridging I had been able to move from talking to the manager to talking with the manager.

Three Traps: Complacency, Cannibalization, Competency

The Three-Box Solution: A Strategy for Leading Innovation by Vijay Govindarajan is a great book to help leader innovate with simple and proven methods for allocating an organization’s energy, time, and resources across the three boxes:

Box 1: The present—Strengthen the core

Box 2: The past— Let go of the practices that fuel the core business but fail the new one

Box 3: The future—Invent a new business model.

Below is an excerpt on the three behavior traps. How do you manage them to the lead your organization to innovate?

Three TrapsThree Box Solution.jpg

While there were many within IBM who clearly understood the implications of both nonlinear shifts, their insights had difficulty penetrating the entrenched logic of the past. The dominant logic of the past exerts its hold on business cultures and practices in three distinctive but tightly interlocking ways. I think of their dynamic effects as traps that snare the unprepared. All three have common origins in mind-sets that focus excessively on past values, behavior, and beliefs.

The Complacency Trap

Current success conditions a business to suppose that securing the future requires nothing more than repeating what it did to succeed in the past. This is the complacency trap. Complacency shrouds the future in a fog of misplaced confidence, hiding from view a clear understanding of the extent to which the world is changing around you.

IBM’s extraordinary success driving revenues in its Box 1 mainframe business masked difficulties to come. Rather than face up to looming threats to the mainframe business, IBM applied temporary patches. One such patch ‘was to change the revenue model from leasing mainframes to selling them outright. S This produced a pleasing surge in near-term revenues that postponed IBM’s day of reckoning.

The loyalty of successful organizations to the past is often so potent that they become quite ingenious at ignoring the onset of fatigue in the Box 1 business. Instead of building the future day by day, IBM prolonged it’s past with what amounted to an accounting change. The resulting years-long period of bolstered revenues made it easy for the company to think that everything was just fine-four words that fairly summarize complacency.

Another way to understand how IBM fell into the complacency trap is that the company’s continuing Box 1 profitability delayed development of a sense of urgency that might have motivated a more prescient Box 2 judgment: that it was important to invest aggressively in the new enterprise model of client/server computing.

This is the dark side of success. No matter the industry or company, each great innovation spawns a steady accumulation of Box I-based structures, processes, and attitudes of the kind that blinded IBM to its predicament. IBM mainframes were not simply smart machines; they were smart machines that over the years had created at customer work sites whole new layers of enterprise management that had never existed before.

Mainframe computers were island fortresses, secured and operated by a newly empowered IT function and inaccessible, except through IT proxies, to the rest of the enterprise. If a technology can embody a governing philosophy, the mainframe’s philosophy was exactly opposite that of the open, accessible internet that was yet to appear. Even before the internet emerged as a business tool, there were pitched battles within almost every company about making valuable mainframe data accessible to and usable by employees with networked PCs. This increasingly loud demand clashed with the mind-set of IBM’s IT customers, who saw their mission as protecting the security and integrity of corporate data: allowing liberal access would lead to data corruption and to proliferating unreliable versions of the “truth.”

In fact, customers can play an important role in deepening a complacency trap. IBM had collaborated with its customers in creating what became an entrenched system of governance for computerized organizations. That system’s structures and attitudes were a self-reinforcing feedback loop amplified by IBM’s large-enterprise customers.

Ultimately, a more modern version of the mainframe emerged and made peace with the rest of the IT infrastructure. Today’s version powers big data analytics and other applications in many large enterprises. But in the IBM of the 1990s, mainframes cast a long shadow over the emergent model of more open, democratized network computing.

The Cannibalization Trap

The cannibalization trap persuades leaders that new business models based on nonlinear ideas will jeopardize the firm’s present prosperity. So, like antibodies attacking an invading virus, they protect the Box 1 business by resisting ideas that don’t conform to models of the past.

At its heart, the fear of cannibalization reflects a wish to keep the world from changing. It is perhaps easy to understand that wish, but it’s much harder to excuse it. The glib answer to those who suffer from this fear is to remind them that change is inevitable and the world will change either with them or without them. When a business allows worries about cannibalization to interfere with its strategy, it has overinvested in its past and is doomed to undermine its future.

Cannibalization is typically understood-and feared-as a near-term threat. As foresighted as IBM was in developing its personal computer in the early 1980s, forces marshaled within the company to protect the legacy business. Those who feared the PC believed it had the potential to threaten the mainframe computing model, perhaps by feeding the growing appetite to liberate enterprise data or by diverting attention and investment away from the company’s dominant business.

People who fear new technology are usually more right than wrong about its potential to supersede legacy products. The truth is, every Box 1 business has reason to fear, sometimes even hate, whatever shiny new thing is being launched. When Steve Jobs gave a big push to the Macintosh launch toward the end of his first stint at Apple, the group in charge of the incumbent Apple II felt threatened and undercut. It was as if cofounder Jobs had sponsored an insurrection.”

In reality, however, cannibalization should be understood as a long- term benefit. The new Apple Macintosh embodied features that soon enough would make its predecessors obsolete. If Apple hadn’t moved quickly, a competitor-maybe even IBM-would have filled the vacuum. Given its history, IBM’s embrace of microcomputing was unexpected. But it quickly set the standard for PCs and legitimized them as tools for both home and business users. While IBM’s marketing of the PC initially tilted toward home users, the real revenue bonanza came from businesses. Suddenly, at least part of IBM had reason to root for client/ server computing. No matter what anyone in the mainframe business thought about it, the client/server model had the shine of inevitability.

So, while companies must take the fear of cannibalization seriously as a problem to manage, it can’t become a reason not to act with foresight when new nonlinear strategies or business models present an opportunity.

The Competency Trap

The competency trap arises when positive results the current core business encourage the organization to invest mainly in Box 1 competencies and provide little incentive for investing in new and future-oriented competencies. In established companies built around a spectacular success, such as IBM’s industry-defining mainframe computers, it is natural to want to create a workforce whose skills dominantly reflect the legacy success. But a competency trap is a double- edged sword. IBM’s investments in Box 1 competencies helped its mainframe business. But Box 1 logic asks, why invest in skills not vital to the company’s current profitability? That is why Box 2 is necessary.

IBM eventually recognized that the dominant computing model it had exploited to achieve such great success was changing. Yet, despite having made significant investments in a robust R&D function, it was having chronic difficulty incubating new ventures. It struggled to find what IBM insiders called “The Next Big Thing.” The organization appeared to have succumbed to a “four monkeys” value system.

Believing that there were indeed systemic problems, then-CEO Louis Gerstner commissioned an internal inquiry to identify root causes. The inquiry, led by Bruce Harreld, IBM’s head of corporate strategy, confirmed Gerstner’s fears. Looking at a number of recent examples of flawed new-business incubation, Harreld’s team concluded that the company’s dominant Box 1 systems, structures, processes, and culture had:

  • Created a powerful bias for near-term results.
  • Encouraged a focus on existing customers and offerings to the extent that new technologies and nonlinear trends were either underestimated or escaped detection entirely.
  • Burdened new businesses with unreasonably high performance goals-especially damaging to ventures that targeted newer, riskier, but often more promising markets.
  • Motivated an unimaginative approach to market analysis that impaired the company’s ability to understand the sorts of “embryonic markets” most likely to spawn nonlinear Box 3 ideas.
  • Interfered with development of the skills necessary to adaptively transition a new business through its emergent and growth stages until it finally became an established enterprise.
  • Caused assorted failures of execution, many owing to the inflexibility of Box l=driven organizational structures, which leaders of new ventures “were expected to rise above … Voicing concerns over [such challenges], even when they were major barriers to new business initiatives, was seen as a sign of weakness.”

What the report didn’t say is important to note. IBM’s problem was not caused by a lack of research competency. On the contrary, its workforce possessed at least some expertise in a wide array of disciplines and technologies. Among its research projects were some that were quite promising and others that were highly speculative, unproven, and obscure. But for all the reasons listed, even ideas that managed to get traction were being ineptly developed and executed. What IBM needed was a well-designed process for enabling, supporting, and rewarding its maverick monkeys and likewise for managing new ventures onward through their developmental stages.

Such a process typically should incorporate a range of structural, cultural, and leadership remedies. At IBM-first under Gerstner and later Sam Palmisano-these distinctive remedies came together under the emerging business opportunities (EBO) framework, which created new structures, changes to the buttoned-down IBM culture, and more versatile and adaptive leadership behavior.

HBR: How to Speak Up If You See Bias at Work

Does unchecked biased and/or offensive behavior make you uncomfortable at work? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Amber Lee Williams.

How to Speak Up If You See Bias at Work

Many people can recall a time when they were exposed to workplace behavior that made them or others uncomfortable. Can you think of a time someone in a meeting joked about another group of people, evoking laughter from everyone else in the room? Or have you worked on a team in which the men seemed to get better projects even though female colleagues were equally or better suited for the work?

And the big question: Did you speak up?

There is no question that objecting to such situations is difficult. The person who decides to raise the issue could damage their relationship with the person making the comments or assigning the work, which could adversely impact the objector’s career opportunities. This is especially true when the comments or behavior aren’t technically illegal. It takes courage to be the one, perhaps the only one, who calls out the behavior as unhelpful to a productive work environment.

So why take the risk? Why not simply ignore the behavior — especially if you’re not the target of it? First, failure to acknowledge and address bias or offensive behavior validates the conduct and may create an impression that the behavior is acceptable, and even to be expected, in the workplace. Moreover, normalizing offensive conduct in this subtle manner tends to have a chilling effect on other potential dissenters, and communicates to those who are offended, regardless of whether they are targets of the behavior, that their perspectives and voices are not valued. Remember that just because people laugh at an offensive joke doesn’t mean they agree with it — or weren’t offended themselves. They might be laughing to cover their discomfort or fit in with the group. In such an environment, employees who are would-be dissenters but are fearful of speaking up may find it difficult to fully engage with their coworkers and leaders and may become less productive.

The bottom line is that patterns of unchecked biased and offensive behavior in the workplace have the potential to erode full employee participation and take a toll on organizational effectiveness.

Given the risks and challenges, how can you draw attention to the bias or offensiveness without putting the other person on the defensive? What are some approaches most likely to limit unintended adverse consequences? There is no one answer or approach that will work for everyone in every situation. Nonetheless, you do have the power to manage how, when, and to whom to raise concerns in ways that will encourage positive change in your environment.

Choose your audience carefully. Sometimes the person you perceive as the offender is not the audience to whom you should address your concerns. If the person making an off-color or offensive joke is a peer or subordinate, it can be effective to directly — but respectfully and privately — address the issue with them. However, in the instance of a person who appears to be assigning work in a discriminatory manner, if the person is a superior or has more power than you do, it may be more prudent to identify a trusted ally in your organization — someone who can provide support, help to identify the right person to speak with about the issue, or maybe even raise the issue on your behalf.

Keep a cool head. Whether you are discussing the issue directly with the person whose conduct is offensive or sharing the situation with an ally, it is important to remain calm. It is not unusual for a person who has observed or been targeted by biased or offensive behavior to feel emotional about the situation. However, sometimes an emotional response to a difficult situation inadvertently shifts the focus of a discussion from problematic behavior to other person’s response to that behavior, which then impedes their ability to address and correct the conduct. It is worth stepping back, working through your emotions, and taking the time to plan what you want to communicate to ensure that the content of your message is not undermined by its delivery.

Create the opportunity for dialogue. You do not have to be provocative or accusatory to raise a concern about discriminatory and offensive conduct. At its core, biased and offensive language and conduct are disrespectful. If the goal is to create a different dynamic, it is counterproductive to attack, demean, and disrespect a person who says or does something offensive. A better approach is to model the behavior you want to see.

For instance, instead of calling someone sexist for giving the plum assignments to the men on the team, you might mention a qualified female colleague who would be an asset to the team. If the supervisor questions the colleague’s qualifications or readiness, point out how participating on the team could further develop her skills, and offer to mentor her.

For the colleague who makes off-color jokes, if you decide to address them directly, you might privately share with the person that their comments make you uncomfortable and suggest the person discontinue the language. If the person asks why you’re uncomfortable, you can share that you do not think it’s appropriate to make jokes at the expense of other groups and that the behavior is offensive and distracting.

Be willing to listen to the other person’s side (e.g., they were only making a joke, you’re being too sensitive, words don’t hurt anyone) — even if you do not agree. Listening to others’ perspectives is essential for creating an environment where all voices are heard and respected.

It takes courage to address biased and offensive language and conduct in the workplace. Relationships and career opportunities potentially hang in the balance. But isn’t it worth it to consider taking the risk in order to achieve full employee engagement and organizational effectiveness?

FOCUS: How Gritty Leaders Articulate Purpose

The Four Virtues of a Leader: Navigating the Hero’s Journey Through Risk to Results by Eric Kaufmann is a quick and enjoyable read. He talks about four key questions to keep you on track: What am I creating? What am I avoiding? What am I sustaining? What am I yielding? Below is an excerpt from the book:

FOCUSFour Virtues.jpg

Purpose is the focusing element we need to understand and develop among the building blocks of grit. Grit is a forward-facing principle. Running away from something isn’t grit; it’s fear. While fear provides a strong motivation to keep running and moving, it drives you from behind as it pushes you along. Grit, on the other hand, magnetizes you toward a long-term objective. Clarity of purpose is a critical element for successfully developing and enhancing your grittiness; this can be something as broad as your life purpose, or a more narrowly defined sense of purpose for your work, team, or project.

Purpose draws from your focus, from your answer to “What am I creating?” In formulating your focus, you keep attention toward the horizon, and in so doing forward becomes obvious and easy to press toward. Leadership is a constant vigilance toward the future, toward what’s coming, as well as to the present, to what’s happening now. Long-term goals feed grit. We persevere when the future plays an active role in moment-to-moment decision making.

I’ve seen a common pattern among people who are most effective at remaining on purpose. I’ve coined the acronym FOCUS as a thinking guide that reflects how gritty leaders articulate purpose. FOCUS is a way to concentrate your efforts forward and bring forth the elements that empower grit:

F-Fulfilling. Is your goal fulfilling to you? How does this long-term goal feed your spirit? How does it make you a better person? Beyond the things that we have to do that we find challenging and difficult, how is this work feeding your soul? My job is challenging. It takes lots of attention and energy. Yet I grow and learn and make extremely rich and meaningful connections. I can press through the challenges because my work is fulfilling. My grit-my perseverance for striving to improve professionally-is fed by the fulfillment of being of service, of touching people’s lives in a meaningful way.

O-Optimistic. My daughter has a glass on her desk half filled with water. She keeps it there because she wants to be gritty, and gritty folks choose to look at the glass as half full. It’s difficult to be gritty when you’re pessimistic about your goal in particular or future in general. You can learn and practice optimism, and the optimistic aspect of FOCUS isn’t just looking at the world positively, but looking forward and being engaged by the future. Being focused on the goal means that you direct yourself toward it; being optimistic about your goal means that you look forward to it. It’s nearly impossible to persevere toward something that you dread.

C-Challenging. Believe it or not, if the purpose is too easy or too ordinary, we lose interest in it. It’s paradoxical that grit-stamina and determination in the face of difficulty-is activated by the very presence of challenge and difficulty. Being challenged has a stimulating and energizing effect when the goal is also fulfilling; you strengthen grit when you know that you’re working toward something fulfilling and challenging.

U-Urgent. To stay on track with your purpose, it has to entail a sense of urgency. Urgency keeps your intention top of mind and your attention focused. This might sound counterintuitive, as grit refers to passion and perseverance for long-term goals. Yet if the long-term goal has no sense of urgency, then it simply languishes in the “would-be-nice-someday” category. When urgency turns to stress, though, it actually consumes the ability to be gritty. What builds purpose for true grit is your continued attention to the urgency of the goal while maintaining a rational detachment from the strain and stress of the deadline.

S-Specific. The final component of FOCUS is that the goal is specific; it’s restricted. During strategic planning, I refer to strategy as the “art of exclusion.” Being specific means honing in on one defined outcome and ignoring the other possibilities and temptations. Losing weight through diet and exercise can take a while, often longer than we wish, and saying, “I want to lose weight” is fairly useless. But saying “I want to weigh 140 pounds” is specific. “Hiring good talent” is vague; “hiring three experienced trainers” is specific.

HBR: Developing Employees’ Strengths Boosts Sales, Profit, and Engagement

As a manager or owner, are you focusing on your employee strengths? What are you doing to strengthen your employees’ performance? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Jim Asplund and Brandon Rigoni, Ph.D.

Developing Employees’ Strengths Boosts Sales, Profit, and Engagement

Should companies primarily focus on playing to the strengths of their employees or help them improve on their weaknesses? This question is particularly important today, given low workplace engagement and higher expectations from workers about what a great job entails.

Gallup has studied thousands of work teams and millions of leaders, managers, and employees for more than five decades. We’ve found that there’s significant potential in developing what is innately right with people versus trying to fix what’s wrong with them.

We know, for example, that the more hours a day adults believe they use their strengths, the more likely they are to report having ample energy, feeling well-rested, being happy, smiling or laughing a lot, learning something interesting, and being treated with respect. In addition, people who use their strengths every day are more than three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life and six times more likely to be engaged at work.

Focusing on employees’ strengths does more than engage workers and enrich their lives, however: It also makes good business sense. Gallup recently completed a large study of companies that have implemented strengths-based management practices. The companies we studied develop what comes most naturally to people — e.g., having employees complete the CliftonStrengths assessment, incorporating strengths-based developmental coaching, positioning employees to do more of what they do best every day, and the like.

The study examined the effects those interventions had on workgroup performance. It included 49,495 business units with 1.2 million employees across 22 organizations in seven industries and 45 countries. Gallup focused on six outcomes: sales, profit, customer engagement, turnover, employee engagement, and safety.

On average, workgroups that received a strengths intervention improved on all of these measures by a significant amount compared with control groups that received less-intensive interventions or none at all. Ninety percent of the workgroups that implemented a strengths intervention of any magnitude saw performance increases at or above the ranges shown below. Even at the low end, these are impressive gains.

  • 10%-19% increase in sales
  • 14%-29% increase in profit
  • 3%-7% increase in customer engagement
  • 9%-15% increase in engaged employees
  • 6- to 16-point decrease in turnover (in low-turnover organizations)
  • 26- to 72-point decrease in turnover (in high-turnover organizations)
  • 22%-59% decrease in safety incidents

So how can your organization approach these impressive numbers? This research, combined with our work with hundreds of organizations, also identified seven best practices for optimizing strengths initiatives. Companies that practiced more of them saw results at the top of the ranges shown above.

Start with leadership. Sometimes a few isolated departments will implement strengths interventions independently, creating a limited impact. But when leaders make these interventions a fundamental strategic priority, that’s when change really happens. Take profitability, for example: We found that the potential for increased profits multiplies when top-level leaders push strengths throughout the entire company.

After a four-way merger, senior leaders at a North American company implemented a “Lead With Your Strengths” program to help employees at all levels understand how to use their strengths to navigate the change, and to foster a unified culture with a shared operating strategy and mutual goals. In the first year alone, the company’s employee engagement levels improved by 26 percentile points in Gallup’s overall organization-level database.

Get managers on board. The best way for employers to maximize workers’ strengths is through their managers. Almost seven in 10 employees who strongly agree that their manager focuses on their strengths or positive characteristics are engaged. When employees strongly disagree with this statement, the percentage of engaged employees plummets to 1%. Manager alignment on a strengths initiative is crucial because managers are ultimately responsible for developing workers based on strengths. This best practice has a profound impact on performance.

Generate awareness and enthusiasm company-wide. When strengths concepts are consistently communicated, employees use their strengths more. A mid-sized financial services company prominently displayed each employee’s top five strengths in their office or cubicle — helping all employees keep one another’s natural talents top of mind. Leaders should also communicate their business strategy in terms of their organization’s competitive strong points – their company’s strengths. Additionally, they need to deliver praise throughout the organization in ways that convey how individuals and teams within have relied on their strengths to be successful. These messages encourage everyone to buy in.

Be mindful of strengths when creating project teams. Not only do leaders need to create ways for all employees to increase their self-awareness, but they should also employ tactics to ensure teams are assembled with each individual’s innate talents in mind. Responsibilities need to be assigned based on what comes most naturally for each team member. For example, strategically partnering two people — whereby both contribute in their area of greatest strength — can make the difference between whether or not teams accomplish overall goals, or even simple objectives.

Focus performance reviews on the recognition and development of employees’ strengths. Even leaders and managers who are motivated to capitalize on their employees’ strengths will find this difficult to do if the company’s performance management philosophy focuses on fixing employees’ weaknesses. A strengths-based approach to performance management is straightforward, appealing and decisive. Managers should conduct performance reviews that encourage and make use of employees’ talents and offer recognition and development aligned with their strengths. Managers should also provide clear performance expectations and help workers set demanding achievable goals. One result of strengths-based performance management is that employees feel their manager knows and respects them, which in turn boosts their performance.

Build a network of strengths experts and advocates. A company’s internal strengths advocates and champions are personnel who play a crucial role in supporting all employees in using what they’re good at to the best of their advantage. These champions help drive the strengths movement at every stage, from initial launch efforts to sustaining momentum down the road. Ultimately, their consistent encouragement can propel the company to world-class performance. One investment management company in the U.K. grew quickly with a network of internal experts who helped employees understand how they could use their strengths more effectively. The result? Despite a competitive and changing market conditions, these individuals were able to adapt to constantly changing environments and develop their skills at the same time.

Tie the organization’s strengths-based culture to its larger brand. A brand that reflects an organization’s strengths-based culture goes a long way for the company. A strengths-based brand attracts the right kind of job seekers – those who are driven to apply and develop their strengths and would be a good fit with the organization’s culture. A strengths-centric brand is also compelling to customers, which can differentiate a company from the competition.

Struggling to live up to its brand promise of exceptional customer service, a large retail company trained its employees to offer shoppers personalized knowledge and advice about purchases, installations, and repairs. When employees were also encouraged to understand and use their strengths, they did an even better job of connecting with customers and providing individualized service. Stores that implemented the new customer strategy and the strengths-based focus grew 66% faster than stores that didn’t use strengths in the initiative.

Now, let’s be honest: employees can’t completely avoid their weaknesses. That just isn’t possible in the real world. But instead of having people waste too much time trying to improve in areas where they’re unlikely to succeed, managers can form strategic partnerships and thoughtful processes that help them work around their weaknesses. Our data suggest that focusing energy on improving in areas that come most naturally to people reaps high returns, as employees and organizations that incorporate strengths as a strategy tend to realize significantly positive business results.

 

Two Yardsticks for Measuring Risky Decisions

How Women Decide: What’s True, What’s Not, and What Strategies Spark the Best Choices by Therese Huston is a fascinating book. How do you make decisions? Do you know the risk in making your decision? Below is an excerpt from the book:

Two Yardsticks for Measuring Risky DecisionsHow women decide.jpg

Are there strategies for figuring out when to take a risk? I was torn on whether to include this advice because I don’t want to send the message that women are, underneath it all, fearful of risk. The data doesn’t support that. But whether you’re a man or a woman, someone who takes too many risks or too few, you need strategies for evaluating new opportunities. There are any number of risky decisions you might be considering. Maybe you’re thinking about taking a new job or quitting your current one. Maybe you’re trying to decide whether to invest your time in a project that your friends think is a dead end but that you believe is just beginning. I’m going to offer two tools, two yardsticks you can use to measure a daring move and whether it’s headed in the right direction.

The first tool is the 10-10-10 rule, developed by the journalist and author Suzy Welch. The purpose of this strategy is to help you look at a decision from three angles, with the hope that one of those vantage points will provide a pop of clarity. In her book 10-10-10, Welch offers three easy-to-remember questions: “What are the consequences of this decision in 10 minutes? In 10 months? In 10 years?” Simple, yes, but potentially quite powerful. The goal isn’t to constrain you to those exact numbers – you could think about two days, six months, and seven years from now. The goal is for you to think about the immediate consequences, the impact your decision will have in the foreseeable and imaginable future and in a distant part of your life, a time far enough in the future that you can’t predict the intervening details or events but you still have clear hopes for yourself. Imagining forty years out is probably too far. The idea is that all too often when we’re trying to make a decision, we’re focused on one, maybe two of these time frames, but wisdom might lie in considering all three.

The second tool for sizing up a risk is something called a premortem, a strategy discussed in the bestseller Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, a Princeton University professor and Nobel Prize- winning economist who has been studying reasoning and decision- making for over forty-five years. You may be familiar with a postmortem, which is what you do when a project or event is over, but a premortem is just what its name suggests – a step you take before the project launches, before you’ve committed to a plan of action and the risks that come with it. The concept is simple. Once you have a concrete plan on the table, bring together the key people who know about the decision you’re making and say, “Imagine that it’s a year into the future and we’ve gone ahead with our current plan. The result was a disaster. Take five to ten minutes and write down a brief play-by-play of that disaster

You might not be immediately impressed with this strategy. You’re thinking, But I’ve already asked “What could go wrong?” a dozen times. But that question involves looking forward, to possible events in the future, whereas the premortem involves looking back. (A premortem is similar to the look-back we discussed in chapter 1.) Looking back may not seem like much of a shift, especially since it’s all in your imagination, but this small shift in perspective can be profound.

Consider these two questions: “How likely is it that an Asian American will be elected president of the United States in 2024? Why might this happen? List all the reasons that come to mind:’

Before you read on, take a moment to think about this future possibility and generate some ideas.

That was looking forward. Now consider these two questions: “It’s 2024 and an Asian American has just been elected president of the United States. Why did this happen? What events might have preceded this one? List everything that comes to mind.”

If you’re like most people who’ve been asked these questions, a wider variety of vivid details come to mind in the second, hindsight scenario. It’s not just that you’re getting a second chance to think about the same event – people generate better answers to the hindsight questions even if they never heard the first ones. Deborah Mitchell at the University of Pennsylvania, J. Edward Russo at Cornell University, and Nancy Pennington at the University of Colorado collaborated on a project and found that people who are given the second, hindsight scenario generate 25 percent more reasons than people given the first, foresight scenario.” Perhaps even more important, people generated more specific and concrete reasons in the hindsight scenario. When we think about future events, we’re content to think in broad generalities, but when we think about something that has already happened, we feel a need to provide more convincing explanations. This is why the premortem is so effective- it’s looking back at a fictional event as though it’s happened. You’ve always heard that hindsight is better than foresight, and that, remarkably, includes imaginary hindsight.

 

How to Conduct a Business Meeting

Business meetings are often unproductive. The following outlines some tips to help ensure a productive meeting. There are three importance things to determine before scheduling a meeting: purpose, agenda, and people.

Purpose

The purpose of the meeting should be clearly stated and communicated to participants. Both the agenda and materials should be sent to all members before the meeting. Let everyone know that the materials should be reviewed prior to the meeting and to come prepared to discuss the topics at hand. Discussions at meetings are important and silence may denote that you’re in agreement with the topic. Ground rules should be made clear.  These may include things such as no cellphones or laptops allowed in the meeting. Also, the meeting should start on time, so arrive 5 to 10 minutes early to network beforehand.

Agenda

The agenda is used to guide the meeting. Each agenda item should have a designated amount of time noted on the agenda either written in minutes or beginning time (3:15pm). An alternative approach is to use a shot-clock which is a timer used to countdown the minutes.

You may want to assign someone to take notes for the meeting. These notes can be either formally typed up and distributed after the meeting or simply make a copy or take a picture of the handwritten notes and email them to the group.

The notes should include the agreed upon action items and assignment of those task s to a responsible party. As a group leader you will need to follow up with the individual responsible for all action items before the next meeting.

People

The last item, but perhaps the most important is deciding who should attend the meeting. There isn’t any magic number on the number of attendees. However, many recommend no more than 6-8 people or you can use Jeff Bezos’s two pizza rule; limit participants to the number two pizzas would feed. Involve those who have a stake in the agenda and will add value. Finally, at the end of the meeting there should be a recap of the results of the meeting, next time steps to be taken, and the responsible party for those actions.

A little extra planning can go a long way to increasing the productivity of any meeting.