Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Impact of Conflicting Goals

With the new year upon us, many people will be setting goals for themselves and their organizations.  Of course, we would hope that these goals would be aligned, i.e. that they would reinforce and complement one another.  Sometimes, however, we find ourselves trying to juggle conflicting goals.  Stanford's Jennifer Aaker has conducted research, along with Duke's Jordan Etkin and Rotterdam's Ioannis Evangelidis, on the impact of competing objectives.   What did they find?
  1. Not surprisingly, people tend to experience more stress when they have competing goals that they are trying to juggle. 
  2. People tend to feel more pressed for time when they experience conflicting goals, even when the goals do not compete for their time. 
  3. When people have conflicting goals, they tend to become much less patient.  In other words, they are less willing to wait in line, or on the phone.  They are also less willing to wait for a package to be delivered.  
  4. Because they have less patience, people are willing to pay more to save time.  The researchers found that, "Goal-conflicted subjects who felt short on time were willing to pay 30 percent more for expedited shipping of a DVD from Amazon. Such results confirm the hypothesis that feeling pressed for time shortens patience and increases willingness to pay."  
 What's the lesson for all of us as we set goals for 2015?   First, if we are leading an organization, we should be mindful of the pressures we create for others if we establish too many goals that are competing with one another.  We can never align objectives completely, but we can try to minimize conflicts.  Second, we can become more aware of how competing objectives may distort our behavior.  Before we expend resources, we might think about how stress and anxiety may be causing us to spend a bit less responsibly.    Finally, we might think about streamlining our list of goals and objectives for 2015.  If we set too many goals, we may not accomplish anything.  We have to be able to set priorities.  In so doing, we will also reduce the likelihood of stress from competing objectives. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Thank You Note After the Job Interview

Maureen Dempsey has written an interesting article about job interviews for Fast Company.  She aims to debunk five key myths about the factors that drive success in the job application process.  While I don't agree with all her points, I think she makes a very strong argument about thank you notes after an interview.  Here's an excerpt:

Rather than simply thanking hiring managers for their time—something that doesn’t add value to the decision-making process—Hawley says to make sure your note contains meaningful information that proves you were paying attention and are still interested in the position.  "Think about the conversation, and write something both personal and business-related," she suggests. "Tell them how much you appreciated discussing a certain business topic, then thank them for sharing their insights about something personal."
I would agree wholeheartedly on this point.  Be specific in the thank you note. Show that you listened to the interviewer, that you learned something new about the company.   What should you not do? Try to make an expanded case for why you should get the job.  You don't want to be writing a long novel.  However, you can express your continued interest in the job.   If specific concerns arose during the interview process about your qualifications, you could politely offer to provide evidence to address those questions.   In a recent interview situation, my colleagues and I were incredibly impressed with a candidate who very politely offered some additional evidence that was quite compelling.  However, the person was concise and to the point, and most of all, expressed gratitude for the opportunity to compete for the position.  

Saturday, December 20, 2014

"Prove it!" - Two Words that Kill Innovation

Roger Martin, former Dean of the University of Toronto's business school, has a terrific new HBR blog post about innovation.  In this piece, Martin argues that two little words kill innovation in many companies:  "Prove it."  Here's an excerpt:

The great irony is that the managers who give this instruction — prove it before I agree to do it — think that they are simply being rigorous managers. They are sure that any innovation problem has nothing to do with them. Rather, it’s the people they’re managing who aren’t executing properly on their innovation program.  They are oblivious to the fact that they are setting a standard that’s impossible to meet. They will complain about their organizations failing to come up with ‘compelling innovations.’ They will hire innovation consultants to bring ‘new thinking’ to the organization — but later declare that the consultants haven’t brought any “winning concepts.”

Why do these two words kill innovation, specifically the truly creative, disruptive innovations that firms seek to bring to market?  In many cases, the early days of such innovation represent what some scholars and practitioners call the "fuzzy front end."  In those days, innovators find it very difficult to quantify the costs and benefits of a new innovation.   They cannot accurate estimate the size of the market or the revenues that a firm might capture.  However, a large organization's mindset often focuses on rigorous quantitative analysis of investment opportunities.  Proof means producing a very detailed spreadsheet with a return on investment calculation.   Small, incremental innovations sometimes can be approved through this type of process.   A manager can produce the kind of proof required, because the technology is established, the market opportunity well-known, and the historical data is available.   Breakthrough innovations stumble though, as managers cannot build upon existing datasets to produce the proof that is required.   

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Time to Celebrate Accomplishments: The Year-End Leadership Message

The holiday season and the end of the year have arrived.  Leaders should take this opportunity to reflect back on the work that their organizations have done over the past twelve months.  What were the significant accomplishments?  What key goals were achieved?  What lessons did the organization learn, perhaps even from some failures that took place?   What will be the key priorities in the year ahead?   Each leader should take the time to answer these questions in a thoughtful letter to the members of their organization, or perhaps in a brief recorded video.   Such a message helps celebrate the accomplishments, and it offers the opportunity to share the credit for the success of the past year.  Moreover, leaders can recognize key individuals or teams publicly.   People want to be recognized for their efforts, and simply paying bonuses for good work does not buy employee engagement.  Public praise and recognition goes a long way.   The message also offers an opportunity to show that the leaders of the organization are reflecting on lessons learned, and it provides the forum to encourage all employees to learn from their successes and failures of the past year.  Finally, leaders have a chance to build alignment, to get everyone on the same page regarding the goals and objectives for the year ahead.   How should the leader close such a message?  Yes, you want to thank everyone for their hard work and wish them a happy holiday season.  However, leaders also should take the time to ask for feedback and input.  They should encourage employees to send them questions or comments in response to this year-end message.   Leaders need to make this communication a two-way street, not a one-way broadcast.  That final step will further enhance employee engagement, and it might yield some terrific ideas on how to improve the organization. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Innovating Through Pyramid Search

You would like to innovate, and you have heard that bold innovations often come from outside of one's particular domain of expertise.  We derive breakthrough ideas by tapping into expertise from analogous fields.  I've blogged about that topic previously on this site.  However, you may find yourself asking:  Where do I begin?  How do I find an expert in an analogous field?  Which analogous field should be explored? 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How To Disagree With Your Boss

Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn - a public relations and communications agency, has written a short column for Fortune about how to disagree with your boss.   I've written extensively about how leaders need to encourage dissenting views.   Often, I'm asked how subordinates can express dissent constructively and effectively.   I n this article, Bloomgarden offers a few tips.  First, she argues that one should stick to the facts.  Avoid making your case based on intuition or emotion.  Provide a sound analysis of the situation with data to support your argument.  Second, identify the costs and benefits of your proposal, as well as the costs and benefits of your boss' proposed course of action.  Try to look at both scenarios in an evenhanded way.  Finally, she says that you should "own what you're suggesting."   In other words, be specific about your willingness to take responsibility for the alternative solution, but be transparent and realistic about what you promise.  Set expectations clearly, but realistically. 

I would add a few other recommendations.  First, you have to know your audience.  How does your boss make decisions?  What types of arguments are most persuasive?   How does he or she like to see data presented?   Second, study the history of the issue.  Understand what has been tried in the past, and if it failed, examine why it did not work.  Third, seek allies and build coalitions. Don't go it alone.  Try to persuade others first, before you turn to your boss.  There's strength in numbers.  Fourth, identify and work through key gatekeepers.  Who has the boss' ear and trust?  How can you work through that person to persuade and influence the boss?  Finally, focus first on divergent thinking before trying to persuade people that their idea is not well-suited to address this particular problem. In other words, ask questions before proposing your solution.  Try to encourage the boss to think a bit differently about the situation.  Encourage them to explore other options.  That inquiry-based approach may be more effective than listing the deficiencies with their proposed course of action. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

More Interpersonal Conflict in Virtual Teams

Stanford Professor Lindred Greer has conducted research on conflict in virtual teams.  She has found that virtual teams are more likely to see task-based disagreements become interpersonal in nature.  According to Greer, 

“They can’t see the context or the nuance or even the facial expressions of the person who is engaging in this task conflict.  When people lack information — when they are uncertain about why someone disagreed with them — they are much more likely to take it personally.  This means they are going to be more emotional and their response is going to be more aggressive and more likely to escalate the conflict than what would happen with face to face teams.” 

 Greer has some tips on how to improve the functioning of virtual teams. She advocates a face-to-face kickoff of a team project whenever possible.  She argues that it can help people understand where others are coming from, and it can help prevent a knee-jerk reaction to attribute negative motives to those with whom we disagree.  Here's a video with more information from Greer on this topic:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ed Catmull: Let Your Ideas Suck

Fast Company has a great feature describing Pixar President Ed Catmull's views on innovation and creativity.  I had the chance to interview Catmull several months ago, and he has a terrific perspective on how to develop a highly creative work environment.   Here's an excerpt from the Fast Company article:

Let Your Ideas Suck

Pixar movies have multi-layered, compelling stories and are beautifully put together, but they don’t start that way. Catmull shared the process that the beloved movies go though, starting with a story that bears no resemblance to the final product. He said, "All that anyone sees is the final product and there’s almost a romantic illusion about how you got there. When we first put up something—these stories suck." For example, he shared that the first version of the movie Up included a king in a castle in the clouds. They threw everything out from that first idea except a bird and the word "up," from there it went through several other iterations with a little more of the final story emerging each time. They had to make a lot of mistakes and have a lot of failures along the way to get the final product, he said.

Speaking of Pixar, they have released the trailer for their upcoming movie, Inside Out.  It sounds like it could be another hit (14 Pixar movies in a row have achieved #1 status at the box office). 

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

How Growth Ambitions Lead to Complexity... and Perhaps Lower Revenues and Profits

The Wall Street Journal reported last week on McDonald's slumping sales.  The article was titled, "McDonald’s Menu Problem: It’s Supersized."  According to the Wall Street Journal, "McDonald’s doesn’t disclose historical data on its menu’s size, but Datassential, which tracks menu trends, says there were 85 items seven years ago, and McDonald’s says there are 121 today."   What are the negative consequences of this menu creep?  The article notes, "QSR Magazine, a trade publication that studies the drive-through performance of fast-food restaurants, reported last year that McDonald’s had clocked its slowest average speed of service in the study’s 15-year history: 189.49 seconds, more than twice the chain’s goal."   

The McDonald's story is not unique.  A firm has growth ambitions, and perhaps it is even worried about slowing growth.  What does it do?  Expand its product offerings.   However, the increase in product variety and selection adds considerable complexity to the business.  As a result, operational efficiency declines, and the company's fortunes actually worsen.  In some cases, it leads to excessive manufacturing and supply chain costs;  in other situations, it decreases customer service.   Consider what happened to Lego more than a decade ago.  A desire to increase growth led to an explosion in the number of different pieces that it produced and sold.  The added complexity became a huge burden for the company's operations.  It had significant negative consequences.  Many firms face this challenge.  Before they decide that new product offerings will be the answer to growth challenges, they have to think about the impact that additional complexity will have.  Are they prepared for that?  Can they cope with the strain that new products may create on operational processes? 

Monday, December 08, 2014

Pick the Best Players - No, not exactly!

You have an important project at work.  You need to assemble a team to complete the critical task.  Who do you select?  Pick the best people, of course.  Well, perhaps not.   As  Tara Nicholle Nelson   writes in Fast Company, 

"A-players Don’t Always Make Great Team Players. Motivated by credit, praise, promotions, and raises, Superstar employees are often amazing individual contributors. But they are not always amazing to work with.  When multiple A-listers are on one team, unless the culture aggressively fosters collaboration and cooperation, they can become competitive with each other, hoard resources, and spend way too much time focusing on what each other is doing, versus focusing on beating your company’s actual competitors in the marketplace."

I have always argued that team creation should involve picking the right players, not simply the best players.  Picking the right players means thinking about how they will complement one another.  Can they fit into certain roles on the team?  Do they have personalities that will enable them to collaborate effectively?  Are they all willing to put the organization's goals above their own personal or departmental interests? 

Friday, December 05, 2014

Target Pep Talk!

Now this guy is one heck of an engaged employee!  Check out his pep talk at the Westminster, Maryland Target store as he prepares his team for the onslaught of Black Friday shoppers.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Five Collaboration Skills from The Design Gym

The Design Gym is an organization that conducts workshops about the design thinking process. Recently, they posted a great piece on their blog regarding the "five core collaboration skills." Here's a recap:

1. Yes, AND

A key principle of improv comedy.  You accept what others say, and they you build upon their ideas.  You don't criticize in the early phases of the creative process.   You defer judgment. 

2. Open vs. Close

Opening a collaborative process correctly makes it much easier to achieve closure effectively.  Opening well means achieving clear alignment on the goals upfront, and then giving people voice in the process so that they feel that their input has been heard and considered. 

3. Keep it Visual

A picture is worth a thousand words.  Don't just discuss ideas.  Sketch them. Draw storyboards.  Create diagrams and tables to help communicate concepts.

4. Needs over Solutions

Don't jump the gun and offer solutions before you understand the true needs of the user.  Focus on the struggles and the "pain points" of the user, and be open to multiple ways to address those needs.

5. Testing over Talking

Experiment. Experiment. Experiment.  Don't debate forever about the merits or the pitfalls of a particular idea.  Instead, conduct a simple test.  Let the data speak.   Rapid iterations in the experimentation process work much more effectively than lengthy deliberations. 

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Networking Leads to Job Growth?

Michael Mandel, president of South Mountain Economics and former chief economist at BusinessWeek, has conducted an interesting new study about job growth.   Using data from LinkedIn, he found that, "the most connected metro regions had more than double the job growth of the least-connected metro areas.” Does that mean networking leads to more economic activity and more jobs?  Not necessarily.   Correlation does not equal causation.  Perhaps, a high growth economy in a region causes professionals to connect with one another more often. The chart to the left summarizes Mandel's findings.