Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance is funny and deeply moving. He also talks about the struggles growing up as part of the in Appalachian working class. I would recommend this book to anyone. Below is an excerpt:Hillbilly elegy.jpg

Hillbilly Elegy

Today downtown Middletown is little more than a relic of American industrial glory. Abandoned shops with broken windows line the heart of downtown, where Central Avenue and Main Street meet. Richie’s pawnshop has long since closed, though a hideous yellow and green sign still marks the site, so far as I know. Richie’s isn’t far from an old pharmacy that, in its heyday, had a soda bar and served root beer floats. Across the street is a building that looks like a theater, with one of those giant triangular signs that reads “ST___L” because the letters in the middle were shattered and never replaced. If you need a payday lender or a cash-for-gold store, downtown Middletown is the place to be.

Not far from the main drag of empty shops and boarded-up windows is the Sorg Mansion. The Sorgs, a powerful and wealthy industrial family dating back to the nineteenth century, operated a large paper mill in Middletown. They donated enough money to put their names on the local opera house and helped build Middletown into a respectable enough city to attract Armco. Their mansion, a gigantic manor home, sits near a formerly proud Middletown country club. Despite its beauty, a Maryland couple recently purchased the mansion for $225,000, or about half of what a decent multi-room apartment sets you back in Washington, DC.

Located quite literally on Main Street, the Sorg Mansion is just up the road from a number of opulent homes that housed Middletown’s wealthy in their heyday. Most have fallen into disrepair. Those that haven’t have been subdivided into small apartments for Middletown’s poorest residents. A street that was once the pride of Middletown today serves as a meeting spot for druggies and dealers. Main Street is now the place you avoid after dark.

This change is a symptom of a new economic reality: rising residential segregation. The number of working-class whites in high-poverty neighborhoods is growing. In 1970, 25 percent of white children lived in a neighborhood with poverty rates above 10 percent. In 2000, that number was 40 percent. It’s almost certainly even higher today. As a 2011 Brookings Institution found, “compared to 2000, residents of extreme-poverty neighborhoods in 2005-09 were more likely to be white, native-born, high school or college graduates, homeowners, and not receiving public assistance.”  In other words, bad neighborhoods no longer plague only urban ghettos; the bad neighborhoods have spread to the suburbs.

This has occurred for complicated reasons. Federal housing policy has actively encouraged homeownership, from Jimmy Carter’s Community Reinvestment Act to George W. Bush’s ownership society. But in the Middletowns of the world, homeownership comes at a steep social cost: As jobs disappear in a given area, declining home values trap people in certain neighborhoods. Even if you’d like to move, you can’t, because the bottom has fallen out of the market-you now owe more than any buyer is willing to pay. The costs of moving are so high that many people stay put. Of course, the people trapped are usually those with the least money; those who can afford to leave do so.

City leaders have tried in vain to revive Middletown’s downtown. You’ll find their most infamous effort if you follow Central Avenue to its end point on the banks of the Miami River, once a lovely place. For reasons I can’t begin to fathom, the city’s brain trust decided to turn our beautiful riverfront into Lake Middletown, an infrastructural project that apparently involved shoveling tons of dirt into the river and hoping something interesting would .come of it. It accomplished nothing, though the river now features a man-made dirt island about the size of a city block.

Efforts to reinvent downtown Middletown always struck me as futile. People didn’t leave because our downtown lacked trendy cultural amenities. The trendy cultural amenities left because there weren’t enough consumers in Middletown to support them, And why weren’t there enough well-paying consumers? Because there weren’t enough jobs to employ those consumers. Downtown Middletown’s struggles were a symptom of everything else happening to Middletown’s people, especially the collapsing importance of Armco Kawasaki Steel.



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: Ineffective Sales Leaders Can Cause Lasting Damage

Is your vison or strategy going in the right direction? Are you retaining the right talent? Are you serving your customers? Or managing your sales team badly? Is your culture wrong for your vision and strategy? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Andris A. Zoltners, Sally E. Lorimer, PK Sinha.

Ineffective Sales Leaders Can Cause Lasting Damage

Success in a sales force requires having strong talent up and down the organization. A weak salesperson will weaken a sales territory, a bad sales manager will damage their team and dampen results in their region, and a poor sales leader will eventually ruin the entire sales force. For even the most seasoned among us, it can be difficult to recognize the signs of a poor sales leader and the possible damage the person can do — especially when they appear to do some good early on.

Consider two examples.

An education technology startup hired a sales leader who came from a large, well-respected firm. He had extensive market knowledge and a stellar track record. Although good at scaling and operating a sales organization, the leader was unable to succeed in a rapidly changing environment that needed experimentation and nimbleness. The mismatch between the startup’s need and the leader’s capabilities set progress back at least a year.

A medical device company hired a vice president of sales with an intimidating management style. He ruled by fear. Achieving goals was everything. He tolerated (and even encouraged) ethically questionable sales practices. Results looked excellent at first, but the sales culture became so unpleasant that good performers began leaving in a trickle, and then in a flood. The average tenure of salespeople dwindled to just seven months. The damage to the company continued for years after the VP was replaced.

The reasons that sales leaders fail fall into four categories:

  • Direction. Poor understanding of the business, leading to errors in vision and strategy
  • Talent. Inability to pick and keep the right people for the team
  • Execution. Poor processes serve customers and manage people badly
  • Culture. Inappropriate values damage the very core of the organization

When such failures are coupled with a leader’s egotism or lack of self-awareness, it’s unlikely that the leader can lean on others to overcome his own deficiencies.

Yet ineffective leaders can do some good in sales organizations. They can bring about needed change quickly. Leaders who lack sensitivity have an easier time eliminating poor performers. Leaders who are intimidating can use their muscle to implement difficult changes that past leaders avoided — for example, an organizational restructure that disrupts an existing power hierarchy.

But unless a poor leader can overcome or compensate for his deficiencies, eventually the bad will overpower any temporary good. A tyrant, for example, may fix some things in the short term but create other problems at the same time. For every gain, there are likely to be multiple missteps with the sales force’s vision, team, execution, and culture. A key and very visible marker of ongoing or impending trouble is when talented people on the leader’s team become frustrated and depart the company.

It can take years to repair the damage done by an ineffective sales leader.

First, it takes time to replace the leader and reconstruct the sales team. When a health care company hired the wrong leader for a sales region, it took more than three years to rebuild the team and recover from the initial error of putting the wrong person in charge.

Second, it takes time to reverse the questionable decisions that ineffective sales leaders make, especially decisions that affect sales force structure or compensation. Weak leaders at a technology company made a decision to restructure the sales organization using a model from their own past that did not match the current situation. Again, it took more than three years to undo the damage.

Third, it takes time to rebuild the culture a poor leader creates. Poor leadership at a medical device company had allowed an unhealthy “victim” culture to pervade the sales force. Salespeople had no confidence in their leaders, and managers were willing to accept salespeople’s constant excuses for poor performance.

Bringing about change required replacing the company’s president, followed by more than two years of sustained focus on transforming the sales force using the following process:

  1. Create a fresh vision, reflecting a culture in which salespeople trusted their leaders and in which all salespeople were held accountable for results.
  2. Communicate the vision using every opportunity, including sales meetings, videoconferences, and the company’s intranet.
  3. Rebuild the team starting with a new vice president of sales who had integrity and judgment, and was willing to replace anyone on the sales team who could not adapt to the new culture.
  4. Realign sales support systems and rewards by overhauling the systems for recognizing and rewarding performance and creating accountability.

These four steps are a good starting point for any company seeking to recover from poor sales leadership.

Bad sales leaders can sometimes bring about change in a broken environment and make temporary gains. But they will wreck a sales force unless they are replaced quickly.

HBR: Treat Employees Like Business Owners

Are you teaching your employees what it means to run a lumberyard? And are your employees committed to reducing your cost of goods sold (COGS). Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by John Case.

Treat Employees Like Business Owners

Employee loyalty and engagement are hot topics, and for good reason. Companies want to attract and retain talented people who really dig into their work. But most employers ignore two of the most powerful tools for making that happen.

Tool #1 is enabling employees to build real ownership in the business.

Of course, many public corporations offer stock-purchase plans or the like as part of their retirement benefit. And everyone knows about the options collected by a select few in Silicon Valley and other tech centers. But meaningful ownership — sizable grants of stock to rank-and-file employees year after year, to help them acquire a significant stake in the company — is all too rare.

It doesn’t have to be. Many large corporations manage to find big bundles of shares (and huge amounts of cash) for executive compensation, even though there’s little relationship between senior-management pay and financial results. A portion of those assets can be redirected to regular stock grants for employees. And companies — except for the very smallest — can implement an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), often funded through borrowing. So long as it’s sufficiently generous, either approach gives employees the kind of stake that makes them feel like true owners.

Just look at the supermarket industry to see such ownership in action. H-E-B, the big Texas-based chain, recently announced that it would give up to 15% of company shares over time to 55,000 of its employees, distributed according to a formula based on salary and seniority. That’s a chunk of stock estimated at more than $1 billion. Publix, a large chain headquartered in Florida, is majority owned by its employees and regularly makes the annual “best companies to work for” lists. And there’s WinCo, a grocery retailer based in Boise, Idaho, with 14,000 employees and 86 stores spread across eight western states. Every WinCo employee is an owner. Cathy Burch, who has worked there for 20-some years as an hourly employee, now has close to $1 million in her retirement account.

You don’t think that kind of generosity builds commitment and passion? “We work our tails off,” an employee with 28 years at WinCo told Forbes. “We’re more of a team than just working for a typical company. There’s a carrot out there you’re working for, for the rest of your life.”

Tool #2 goes by different names: open-book management, economic transparency, ownership culture. Whatever you call it, it means encouraging employees to think and act like businesspeople rather than like hired hands.

If you work for a conventional organization, your job is to show up at the appointed time and perform certain tasks. At open-book companies, it’s part of everyone’s job to contribute to the success of the business. Managers help employees understand, track, and forecast key numbers. They welcome ideas for improvement. They reinforce the ownership mindset by sharing profit increases with everyone, usually through bonuses funded by the increase itself. Many of these businesses also have a stock plan in place.

The approach is easiest to understand in a small company. The Paris Creperie, a Boston-area restaurant that’s about the size of a McDonald’s outlet, recently adopted open-book management. Creperie employees learned the basics of the restaurant business, including determinants of profit such as cost of goods sold (COGS). Then, last summer, they launched an initiative to reduce COGS, cutting food waste, reconfiguring some dishes, and coming up with ways to operate more efficiently. COGS dropped from roughly 30% of revenue to 26.5% over a four-week period, and continued to hold in the mid-20s. Operating profit rose by more than 10 percentage points in just four months and has stayed in the 18% to 20% range, compared with a restaurant-industry average of less than 4%.

This year, employees there are on track to get bonuses averaging $6,000. “Any other restaurant, I would just be scraping by,” shift supervisor Amanda Norton told the Boston Globe. “Seeing those bonuses really helps me breathe easier, knowing that it’s not the end of the world when I have to pay bills.”

You can imagine what all this does for employee loyalty and commitment. “Actually,” says Harvard Business School professor Leonard A. Schlesinger, “when employees know more about the business and have an economic stake in the outcome, there’s a high probability that turnover rates would go down exponentially.”

These tools also address two fundamental challenges of today’s free-enterprise system. An ownership nest egg helps mitigate inequality by putting more money in the hands of rank-and-file employees. And open-book management teaches people the basics of business, so they can thrive when they have to change jobs, as most inevitably will in our fast-changing economy. “People are learning what it means to run a business,” says Joe Grafton, a consultant who works with the Creperie. “That’s something they can take with them as they move forward with their careers.”

Both measures give people a stake in the system and the wherewithal to live a more secure life. A company that puts these tools to work helps its community while helping itself.


The Age of Edison

I read this good book The Age of Edison by Ernest Freeberg . It’s so amazing how electricity and the light bulb changed the world. The light bulb had effects on the insurance industry, architects, sign makers and retail. Just image your world without electric light’s and electricity. Below is an excerpt from the book.

The Age of EdisonAge of Edison

In a similar fashion, Hoover suggested that the impact of Edison’s lights far surpassed anything that one man could have envisioned in 1879. The great inventor had aimed to liberate people from their gas and oil lamps by providing a better and cheaper light. But far beyond that, the humble bulb that left Edison’s laboratory and made its way in the world had been transformed by the creativity of others to serve “an infinite variety of unexpected uses”;

It enables us to postpone our spectacles for a few years longer; it has made reading in bed infinitely more comfortable; by merely pushing a button we have introduced the element of surprise in dealing with burglars; the goblins that lived in dark corners and under the bed have now been driven to the outdoors; evil deeds which inhabit the dark have been driven back into the farthest retreats of the night; it enables the doctor to peer into the recesses of our insides; it substitutes for the hot water bottle in aches and pains; it enables our towns and cities to clothe themselves in gaiety by night, no matter how sad their appearance may be by day. And by all its multitude uses it has lengthened the hours of our active lives, decreased our fears, replaced the dark with good cheer, increased our safety, decreased our toil, and enabled us to read the type in the telephone book. It has become the friend of man and child.”

In this, Hoover recognized what most other speakers had missed that day: that what Edison and his rival inventors had done fifty years earlier was to release upon the world a technology with enormous potential, one with far too many possibilities for anyone person to anticipate or create. Edison conceded as much. “When I laid the foundation of the electrical industry,” he told a reporter during the festivities, “I did not dream that it would grow to its present proportions. Its development has been a source of amazement to me.”!

Hoover’s playful list of the light’s various applications captured some of these “amazing” and unexpected consequences of Edison’s invention, though his tally was far from complete. To it we should add the light’s role in expanding human knowledge of the deep sea and the microscopic world, of caves and polar darkness. The light inspired creative adaptations by architects, urban planners, lighting designers, sign makers, window dressers, and theater artists. And we should remember the untold number of inventions and social conventions that others developed in order to fully realize the light’s potential: the engineering standards, insurance guidelines, consumer protections, and utility regulations. Hoover noted that light made Americans more productive, less afraid and vulnerable, but might have also mentioned its role in creating other distinctive markers of modern life-our frenetic pace and long hours, our assumption that any barrier imposed by nature can be overturned or ignored in the name of economic efficiency, the exhilarating and disorienting effects of electric mass marketing and retail, and the experience of living, working, and playing in spaces carefully engineered by illuminators to induce a proper mood.

Though Hoover captured just a part of the electric light’s enormous economic, social, and cultural impact, he deserves credit for acknowledging that Edison, for all his greatness, was only the foremost among many, some known and others long forgotten, who had played some part in inventing the light bulb and thus in creating this essential part of modern culture. Edison recognized this more than anyone, and offered the fullest tribute that evening to all those who had joined him in building a world of electric light. In a voice quavering with emotion, the world’s greatest inventor told his global audience, “I would be embarrassed at the honors that are being heaped on me were it not for the fact that in honoring me you are also honoring that vast army of thinkers and workers of the past, and those who are carrying on; without whom my own work would have gone for nothing. If I have spurred men to greater effort and if our work has widened the horizon of man’s understanding even a little and given a measure of happiness to the world, I am content.”

After giving his brief remarks, Edison collapsed and had to be taken to Ford’s house for several days of bed rest. “I am tired of all the glory,” he complained. “I want to get back to work.”

Increasing Engagement of Front line Employees

This topic is very important to create loyal customers. Engaged employees go the extra mile to deliver and provide better experiences for the customers. They come up with creative processes, service improvements and remain with their employers for longer tenures, which reduces turnover and its related costs. Your employees can deliver an enormous payoff to the business, by creating passionate customers who buy more, stay longer and tell their friends, all of which generates sustainable growth.

Increasing Engagement of Front line Employees

By Kevin Eikenberry

Yesterday, while facilitating a leadership discussion with a group of managers and owners at a conference for the Lumbermens Merchandising Corporation, the topic of engaging the front line employees came up. In effect, the question was asked, ” How do I get a truck driver to engage with the business and think about their work differently?”

Of course, the question isn’t really about truck drivers, but it is a common question I get, and it is based on two mental mistakes.

  • People ask the question from their perspective, and don’t consider the perspective of the other person (or make wild assumptions about it).
  • People assume others don’t want the same things they do.

Both of these mistakes lead to the honest confusion that underlies the question.

So just how do I engage front line employees?

Everyone operates from the view of the world they see.  If you are, for example, a truck driver, there are certain things you see and think about everyday – your experiences and thoughts create your perspective. Do you and your front line folks share the same experiences and therefore thoughts? Of course not!  So in order for them to see things differently, you need to help them see different things.

Strategy:  Help people see a new perspective. Give them a chance to see the numbers. Give them a chance to sit in on different conversations. Help them see the bigger picture. Will they see it immediately? Not necessarily, but be patient, they will if you give them time, support, and encouragement. It’s like the opposite of the show Undercover Boss – when the CEO sees a new perspective, they have a new understanding.

If you think you are different because of your job, education, or station in life, get a grip. Yes, every human being is different with a unique set of wants and needs, yet at the heart, we are all human. We want many of the same things from our work, regardless of our job title.   Here is a good list for starters. (Read it if you aren’t sure what I mean).

Strategy:  If you want to engage people, especially if you aren’t sure how, ask them. Ask them some questions, then listen. Don’t get into problem solving, justification, or excuse mode. Shut up and listen. Find out what they need. Engage them from their current perspective. You’ll learn something, and you will move in the direction of a more engaged employee.

There is a lot more that could be said (and done), but this is a good start.

Now go and get started!

Make Data Work Throughout Your Organization

Cover of "Data Driven: Profiting from You...
Cover via Amazon

Below is a recent blog post from Harvard Business Review. There are four steps to improve your organization: Improve the data; Build “data to discovery to dollars” processes; Invest in people; Strive to empower all with data. Are you a data-driven manager?

Make Data Work Throughout Your Organization

by Thomas C. Redman and David Walker

Data-driven managers, departments, and organizations have always enjoyed distinct advantages. The data-driven have crafted the best strategies, uncovered wholly new markets, and kept operational costs low. Today, advances in predictive analytics and the potential for big data portend even greater opportunity. Count us among the biggest enthusiasts for continual progress in these and related areas.

Indeed, we think every organization must develop and execute an aggressive plan to put data to work. But the vast majority readily acknowledge themselves as “data rich and information poor.” In these organizations, too few people are involved, too much data can’t be trusted, and too much data lies fallow in vast, unexamined warehouses.

So where to begin? Important as the technology and expertise may be, we find that most companies should focus first on high-quality data, process, people, and culture. Ignoring these is a bit like putting enough energy into a leap to get halfway across a stream; it takes time and money but leads to an unhappy result. We propose four interlocking steps to use your data more effectively and to create a data-driven culture in your company.

Improve the data. “Garbage in, garbage out!” It is trite to observe that results can be no better than the data on which they are based. Wall Streeters seem to have missed this point when they employed sophisticated algorithms to slice, dice, and price risk into the now infamous collateralized debt obligations, all the while forgetting (or blissfully unaware) that the data about underlying mortgages were corrupt. Make sure the data are properly, clearly, and consistently defined across the organization, improve quality, and promote sharing across units. To be clear, this is not — repeat not — an esoteric tech project. It requires concerted effort across the organization.

Build “data to discovery to dollars” processes. Create processes to put data work across the enterprise. Here we include processes to deliver more to customers; to repeatedly and forever seek hidden truths in data; and to seek out novel data and integrate them with existing data into a more potent whole.

is a terrific example. Armed with a deep understanding at the customer-level of where it makes money (not just generates revenue), a company can forge new relationships, change its price structure, and redirect its marketing campaigns. The technical challenges are legion. But they are nothing compared to the challenges of defining and managing the processes to link data from (disparate) cost and revenue centers, conduct the analyses, and renegotiate contracts.

Invest in people. Obviously, the high-powered analytics types are in short supply. But we’re even more concerned about managers who are accustomed to managing by the seats of their pants (and pantsuits) and threatened by data. Their new roles are essential, but they cannot execute without wholly different mindsets. The McKinsey report on Big Data suggests theU.S. alone faces a shortage of roughly ten analytically-competent managers for each deep analyst. Start by gathering a critical mass of these managers.

Strive to empower all with data. Drive data into every nook and cranny of the organization, show people how data make them more effective, and encourage experimentation. As they “switch on” (albeit slowly), most people make better, more confident decisions; seek opportunities to improve their work; and engage with others on larger, more complex issues.

This last point is driven home over and over. Take this example: One night Tom attended a celebration for a team in a telecommunications company that had drastically improved performance after implementing a new data quality measurement and control system. He asked one woman how the new measurements had impacted her work.

She looked him and said, “You know, before we had these measurements I never had any say in my work. We’d run into a problem, and I’d ask my boss how he wanted me to handle it. And he’d tell me. A lot of times the answer didn’t make sense. But I did what I was told.”

The excitement in her voice rose as she continued: “Now I have the facts. I still go to my boss. But now we discuss those facts. And he lets me do what I think is right. I’ve never had so much control in my work.”

Later that night Tom ran into her boss and asked the same question. He replied, “I always felt like my life was nothing but dealing with problems. People would come to me all day long and ask me how I wanted them to handle something. How the heck was I supposed to know? But there I was. Telling people what to do.”

He continued, “People still come to me with problems. But it’s different now. We figure it out. Together.”

A more capable team quite naturally produces better results. As a data-driven culture permeates more broadly, an enterprise’s abilities to take bold, innovative, concerted action on increasingly larger challenges also grow. This is critical. The really important challenges facing today’s organizations are enormous, multifaceted hydras. They will not yield to data alone. But the deeper, the broader, the more pervasive your data-driven culture, the better your chances.