Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Design Rituals to Reinforce Organizational Values & Culture

Mollie West and Kate McCoubrey Judson have published a wonderful blog post for the Huffington Post about how to strengthen organizational culture.   They focus on the importance of establishing rituals that bring the organization's mission, purpose, and values to life.   I've always believed in the value of such rituals.  At universities, such rituals include ceremonies such as convocation and commencement, as well as alumni reunions, honor society inductions, and new student orientations.   Of course, they also include many smaller rituals that are part of everyday life on campus.   For us, these rituals reinforce our institutional values and remind us of the meaning and purpose of our work - to transform the lives of the young people who come here to learn and grow.   West and Judson describe the importance of rituals in this excerpt from their article:  

Companies practice rituals of all kinds—celebration rituals, eating rituals, storytelling rituals. Why are they important? Rituals engage people around the things that matter most to an organization, instilling a sense of shared purpose and experience. They spark behaviors that make the work and the company more successful.

Rituals can be powerful drivers of culture, so they should be thoughtfully designed and nurtured. This starts with setting an intention. What is the organization’s unique purpose and set of values? What mindset and behaviors will help people deliver on those? A great ritual will reinforce that mindset and those behaviors in a way that feels authentic to the organization and its people. What works at one company, might feel totally foreign somewhere else.

It’s also important to think about what will make a ritual stick. Why will people want to participate? Can it start organically and catch on, or will people look to certain leaders to model it first? Designing a ritual that will sustain over time requires tuning in to the organization’s existing culture, beliefs, and behaviors. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Interview with Phillip Barlag, Author of The Leadership Genius of Julius Caesar

1. Why did you choose to write this book

Early in the book, I discuss a story where Caesar was able to stop a mutiny of his army - which occurred while he was away from camp - by returning, standing before them, and uttering one single word. When I first heard this story, I was enthralled. How could any leader have so much gravitas, that they could bend the will of an organization in open and violent revolt with just one word? To me, that was a question that needed to be answered. 

2. Who do you think should read this book? What will be the most important takeaways for that audience?

It would be too easy, and too self-serving to say something silly like 'every leader everywhere,' should read this book. Rather, I think the best audience would be those leaders or managers who are tasked with driving a change management agenda of one kind or another, but find surprising organization inertia or active resistance impeding their progress. Caesar's career was defined by his ability to do what people had been trying - and failing - to do for hundreds of years. Most of his predecessors not only saw their efforts end without success, but found themselves murdered by the oligarchs who stood to lose should much-needed reforms take hold. Given how hard change can be in any modern organization, people that are a part of such efforts, or have a goal for doing things differently, should read the book. 

3. What is one surprising lesson from Caesar that you discuss in the book?

In the conventional narrative of Caesar, he is described as a tyrant, a dictator. Certainly he was capable of blind pursuit of his ambitions, but adjusted for his time, he was remarkably enlightened. For me, the most surprising aspect of his leadership that reveals itself with a deeper exploration, is that forgiveness was an absolute cornerstone of how he led. As a result, he was able to turn enemies into supporters, and neutralize many people that would otherwise have fought him to the death. Caesar's life and career make a fascinating and compelling business case for the power of forgiveness; he would not have been able to achieve all that he did without going against the conventions of his day and welcoming enemies back with honors and open arms. 

4. How did you go about researching for the book?

This book is a result of following an interest until it becomes an area of general expertise. I'm not a historian; I just like history. After reading 30 or so books about Rome and about Caesar, patterns began to emerge that I felt needed to be put together into a guide for a modern leader. I was in the very happy place of doing research by reading books and articles that I found intrinsically interesting. When these efforts needed to be augmented, I sought the opinion of some professional historians, academics, and editors who helped me filter out the overwhelming body of literature to arrive at the most important and respected work available. Roman history is fascinating. We know so much about Rome and the people that lived there. But there is just enough gap in the historical record, and there are just enough different ways to interpret what we know, that there is endless debate and discussion about what Rome was as a social and political entity, and what it meant. There was plenty of information to choose from!

5. What modern leaders remind you of Caesar and why?

Caesar was singularly unique. There hadn't been anyone quite like him before he arrived, and there hasn't been anyone since. But if you break him down into some of the unique aspects that added up to make him who he was, then there are a few people that come to mind.

To me, the closest we could come would probably be Steve Jobs. He, Caesar, saw a way of doing things that was badly outdated, and took on the incredibly difficult task of changing the whole system. Caesar also was single-minded in accomplishing goals ahead of competitors, and created such an overwhelming sense of urgency in the organizations he led. To me, these things have echoes of Steve Jobs. They were both innovators beyond compare, very clear about defining the line of battle, and rising to every challenge. Jobs was more volatile and less emotionally generous, but in terms of the scope of their goals and ambitions, I think it's a fairly apt comparison. 

I guess the term 'modern' is a bit relative when discussing someone that lived more than 2,000 years ago, so I am going to cheat a little from what I infer to be the spirit of the question and draw a comparison to Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln was a young lawyer on the circuit, he encountered Edwin Stanton. Stanton thought Lincoln to be so boorish as to be barely human. As their careers progressed, Stanton would heap insults upon Lincoln, often calling him the 'original gorilla.' Hardly kind (or accurate). When Lincoln was President, and his first Secretary of War Simon Cameron got embroiled in scandal, Lincoln overlooked the countless years of insults and nominated Stanton for the post. Lincoln never held a grudge, and he could see past his pride and identify Stanton as the best man for the job. It would be an inspired pick, and the two became incredibly close collaborators, changing the course of the Civil War and of American history. Find me another leader that could have so much forgiveness that they could do the same. Obviously the point is that Caesar often did the same thing: Forgetting the past and forging a new future with unlikely partners. As with Jobs, there are key differences. In this case, Caesar's forgiveness was more calculating and self-serving, but in a lot of ways, the outcomes and the lessons are the same. 

Running "Sprints" Effectively

Rachel Emma Silverman wrote a short piece for the Wall Street Journal last week about the use of "sprints" to solve tough problems at companies such as Alphabet. A sprint is a focused group problem-solving process that unfolds in just five days. She features Jake Knapp of Alphabet in her column. Knapp has co-authored a book titled "Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days."   I thought he offered some terrific advice about decision-making during such group sprints. 
“It’s really important to know who the decider is,” says Mr. Knapp. “For many teams there is a lot of ambiguity about who makes decisions. If you can’t get the decider for the whole sprint, make sure you can get her in the room for cameo appearances during the sprint to make decisions.”A sprint works best when there is one person tasked with making the final call for big decisions, rather than relying on a more democratic process, he says. Team members can provide input and feedback, but in a sprint there should be a sole decision maker. “We want there to be a single decider to make the calls, and we want him or her to be opinionated, says Mr. Knapp. “It becomes an informed dictatorship.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Mastering the One-on-One Meeting

Julia Austin, Chief Technology Officer at DigitalOcean and advisor to many startups in the Boston area, has written a terrific blog post about how to conduct effective one-on-one meetings with your direct reports.  I highly recommend reading the entire post.  Here are a few highlights: 
  • "Book a regular cadence of 1:1s. They should not be ad-hoc. It’s ok to skip one every once and awhile, but having it locked into the calendar is your commitment to being there for your employee. Decide the best cadence with them (weekly or every other week? 30 minutes or an hour?) and what the format should be – your office or theirs, a walk, or maybe grabbing coffee. Different formats work for different employees... 
  • "24 hours or so before the meeting, email the employee a list of what you’d like to cover. Try to do a split between strategic, tactical and personal items and always ask your employee what they want to cover too."
  • "Do not monopolize the conversation. This is for you each to get time to talk. Pause often and make sure there is opportunity for discussion and questions."
  • "It is important to always follow up any 1:1 (or scheduled meeting, for that matter) with notes on what was discussed, decisions made and, if relevant, any constructive feedback that will be measured going forward." 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Feedback?

The Wall Street Journal reports today on the changing culture at Kimberly-Clark, maker of products such as Huggies diapers and Kleenex tissues.   In this article, Lauren Weber writes the following: 

"One of the company’s goals now is 'managing out dead wood,' aided by performance-management software that helps track and evaluate salaried workers’ progress and quickly expose laggards... Armed with personalized goals for employees and large quantities of data, Kimberly-Clark said it expects employees to keep improving—or else. 'People can’t duck and hide in the same way they could in the past,' said Mr. Boston, who oversees talent management globally for the firm.  It has been a steep climb for a company that once resisted conflict and fostered a paternalistic culture that inspired devotion from its workers."

Weber goes to write that Kimberly-Clark's performance management system reflects a trend taking place in many companies, in which firms have eliminated annual merit reviews and replaced them with more continuous feedback.   She cites examples such as Accenture, Adobe, and GE, all of whom eliminated traditional annual performance reviews.   These firms have adopted real-time feedback systems for a number of reasons including, according to Weber, the belief that, "Millennial workers, meanwhile, demand more feedback, more coaching and a stronger sense of their career path."  

My question is simple though:   Can we take this shift to continuous monitoring, evaluation, and feedback too far?   I keep hearing that millennials want more feedback, but I've spent a ton of time around young people as a college professor.  I'm not sure any of us love being critiqued at every turn.   We work on some projects that take some time to get off the ground.   Some ideas require some time to take shape.   In short, I think this shift taking place in corporate America raises some critical questions:  Is too much early "feedback" going to quash some creative ideas?    Are managers adept enough at offering constructive critique to make this type of real-time feedback system effective at many firms?  Are we evaluating what truly drives success, or are we focused on what is easy to measure?  Are we encouraging short term thinking when we provide real-time feedback, or are we making sure to keep long term objectives in mind?  

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Early, Often, & Ugly!

Adam Bryant interviewed Christa Quarles, CEO of Open Table, in this week's New York Times Corner Office column.   Quarles describes one important leadership lesson she learned when she became CEO of the firm:  

The other surprise was that people were afraid to share things early on. Teams were trying to perfect something before they would show it to me, and they’d waste a ton of time trying to get it to be perfect to show to the C.E.O. So I said, “Early, often, ugly. It’s O.K. It doesn’t have to be perfect because then I can course­-correct much, much faster.” No amount of ugly truth scares me. It’s just information to make a decision. 

Awesome advice!  You have to strongly encourage people to show you work earlier on, because they will naturally have a tendency to want to perfect it before exposing those ideas to senior leaders.  Of course, how you then provide critique and feedback is essential.  If you attack those ideas in a fashion that is not constructive, your folks will stop bringing you ideas "early, often, and ugly."   You cannot invite those rough sketches and ideas without also considering how to critique those ideas differently than you might approach a near-finished proposal.    

Monday, August 15, 2016

Why A Few Box Office Hits Generate More Revenue Than Ever

The Wall Street Journal reports today on some interesting trends in the movie business.   According to this article by Ben Fritz, a small number of blockbuster hits accounts for a higher fraction of total box office receipts than in past years.   This year, the hits have included movies such as Finding Dory and Zootopia.  Fritz writes, "Increasingly, success in the movie business requires being one of the handful of most popular movies that draw a disproportionate amount of attention on social media and in the cultural zeitgeist. This year’s five most popular films account for 30% of the total domestic box office. At the end of last year that figure was 22%, a record at the time. The inevitable result is a smaller pool of moviegoers left to see everything else."  

Why the shift toward a larger share of revenue from the top movies of the year?   Fritz wrote an earlier column that may offer some clues.  In that piece, he noted that viewers tend to be getting their information from different sources these days.  In the past, people watched Siskel and Ebert (and others like them), and those experts shaped their movie-going decisions.  Today, people pay much more attention to what other viewers think.   What is the movie's Rotten Tomatoes score?  A bad score can doom a movie.   

Is this shift an example of the power of the wisdom of crowds?  Is it necessarily a good thing that we are using the crowd's wisdom to guide our movie-going decisions?   Interestingly, some research points to the pitfalls of the wisdom of crowds.  Jan Lorenz, Heiko Rauhut, Frank Schweitzer, and 
Dirk Helbing have studied this issue through experimental research.  They summarize their findings in the excerpt below:  

This wisdom of crowd effect was recently supported by examples from stock markets, political elections, and quiz shows [Surowiecki J (2004)The Wisdom of Crowds]. In contrast, we demonstrate by experimental evidence (N = 144) that even mild social influence can undermine the wisdom of crowd effect in simple estimation tasks. In the experiment, subjects could reconsider their response to factual questions after having received average or full information of the responses of other subjects. We compare subjects’ convergence of estimates and improvements in accuracy over five consecutive estimation periods with a control condition, in which no information about others’ responses was provided. Although groups are initially “wise,” knowledge about estimates of others narrows the diversity of opinions to such an extent that it undermines the wisdom of crowd effect in three different ways.

Interestingly, one other shift seems to be occurring in Hollywood from the production standpoint. More than ever, studios appear to be relying on franchises, sequels, and reboots.   Why is that happening?   One could argue that the studios are trying to enhance the probability of achieving a strong box office by bringing familiar characters to the screen.  That may be true to some extent, but there may be a limit to this positive impact.  At some point, they may saturate theaters with reboots and sequels, and customers may desire more originality.   

Friday, August 12, 2016

Accepting that Job Offer When the Internship Ends

You have completed your summer internship, and you have received a full-time offer of employment.  Fantastic!  Now, should you accept the position.  Most young people might say, "If you had a good summer internship experience, then of course, you should take the job."   Jon Simmons has published a good article for Fast Company that addresses this issue.   Simmons suggests that the answer might not be so simple.

How should you make this decision?   Simmons suggests careful consideration of a wide range of factors including compensation, benefits, company culture, opportunities for growth and development.  Certainly, all of these items matter.  However, I think the decision should not primarily be about factors such as compensation.  In fact, the differences in compensation across multiple job offers will be relatively trivial for most students.  The real issue is growth and development.   Interns should ask themselves three questions:

1.  Will my full-time position be substantively different than my internship experience?  Will it be more challenging?  Will I assume new responsibilities?  Will I learn new skills?  If the answer is no to these questions, then you don't want to take the offer.  The best firms that hire here at Bryant University provide full-time opportunities that build upon, but go well beyond, the internships that they offer.

2.  Does the firm have a track record of investing in the growth and development of its young employees?   Will I have opportunities to enhance my skills through in-house leadership development programs, training courses, tuition reimbursement at local universities, and mentoring by senior leaders?   If the answer is yes, then you should seriously consider taking the job offer.

3.  What are my short term career goals, and would this full-time position help me achieve those goals?  Don't think in terms of 10-15 year plans.    That's just not advisable in today's world.  Think instead of the next 5 years.  What do you hope to achieve?  Suppose you plan to apply to a top MBA program. Then ask yourself:  Will this full-time position help me gain admittance to such a school?  Suppose instead that you hope to become a young entrepreneur.  You should ask:  How will this position help me achieve that goal?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Who is More Empathetic: Intuitive or Analytical People?

The British Psychological Society's Research Digest features new work by Christine Ma-Kellams of the University of La Verne and Jennifer Lerner of Harvard. They focus on empathy, something that has gotten a great deal of attention in the management field recently. The human-centered design movement emphasizes empathy with customers as a key tool for driving innovation. Meanwhile, efforts to improve employee engagement have focused on the need for managers to empathize with their subordinates. La Verne and Lerner study how different types of people engage in empathy, and their results prove rather surprising. The Research Digest summarizes their conclusions: 

Reading what other people are feeling is an important skill that helps us navigate conflicts, deepen relationships, and negotiate effectively. So what’s the best way to approach this? New research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that most of us believe that the best approach is to trust our instincts. But the paper goes on to show that, on the contrary, accurate empathy comes from operating deliberately and analytically.

What explains this surprising finding that contradicts the conventional wisdom?  The authors argue that reading others' emotions often proves very difficult.  The cues are not always obvious or clear.  Therefore, it takes some effort to discern how others are feeling.   That's where a more analytical mindset has value.   Focusing on details, evaluating a situation comprehensively, and deliberately analyzing a variety of cues turns out to be crucial to empathizing with others in many situations.  Instincts alone do not always do the job.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

How to Listen to an Employee's Pitch

Adam Bryant interviewed Lisa Gersh recently for his New York Times Corner Office column.   Gersh explains an early leadership lesson she learned.  In short, she's talking about how the "yes, and" principle from improv comedy can be used to enhance the quality of team meetings.  

A mentor, Geraldine Laybourne, gave me a great lesson when I had my first child. She said the best way to control the “terrible 2s” and make your kids happy is to learn how to say “yes.” It doesn’t mean giving them everything they want; it means directing them to something else. The same thing is true in business. It’s about learning to say yes. People pitch ideas all the time, and I find that others in the room can often want to say no and talk about why it’s not a good idea. A bunch of really smart people can kill any idea. You can always find out what’s wrong with an idea, but you can’t necessarily find out what’s good with the idea. And so the first thing she said to me when we were starting Oxygen Media is to learn how to say yes. Listen to people’s ideas almost like an improv session, and play with the ideas. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to do the idea. It just means you’re going to listen to the idea and work on the idea.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Remembering (or Forgetting) or Own Misdeeds

Maryam Kouchaki and Francesca Gino have conducted some interesting research about how we think about dishonest or unethical behavior.   In a series of experiments, they examined how we recall our own misdeeds versus the unethical decisions and actions of others. What did they find? First, according to this article from Kellogg Insights, they discovered (not surprisingly) that, "People recall their unethical behaviors with less-than-vivid clarity—increasing the likelihood that they will take similar actions in the future."  The scholars describe this phenomenon as "unethical amnesia."  They argue that such behavior is problematic because forgetting our own misdeeds makes us more likely to take such actions again.   If we recalled that behavior more clearly, it would act as a deterrent.   Why do we engage in unethical amnesia?  Well, of course, we are employing a defense mechanism.  We don't like to consider ourselves in a negative light.  Failing to reflect on our own misdeeds, however, may heighten the risk that we engage in such bad behavior again.  

What about others' misdeeds?  The scholars find that we are much more likely to recall the unethical behavior of others than our own.   Here's the experimental result:

So are all memories of unethical behavior hazy? Or are we just fuzzy on our own bad deeds? The researchers tested this question by having people adopt the perspective of someone else. They recruited participants online to read a story describing either ethical or unethical behavior. Some of the stories used a first-person perspective so that the reader assumed the point of view of the main character. The other stories used a third-person perspective.

Four days later, the participants rated their memory of the story. Indeed, the perspective of the narrator—and therefore, presumably, the reader—mattered. Participants who read a story with a third-person perspective remembered it just as clearly whether it was about ethical or unethical behavior. But participants who read a first-person story reported remembering the story about unethical behavior less clearly.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Why Do You Want to Work Here?

We've all faced this question in a job interview:  "So, why exactly do you want to work for us?"  The question seems very straightforward, yet it trips up many candidates.  I'm shocked by how many times I've heard responses that indicate a lack of in-depth research about our organization.  Doing your homework, though, is only the first step.   You have to go much further to answer this question effectively.   In a recent article for Fast Company, James Reed explains how to approach this question successfully: 


Some hiring managers will ask you directly what motivates you to do great work in order to see whether you’re just in it for the paycheck. This is a great opportunity to explain why this job at this company, and not just a job at any company, is what you’re after.

Most of us go to work each Monday morning, at least in part, so we’ll be paid by the end of the month. But as both you and your potential employer have probably discovered, people who are motivated solely by the money are rarely the most enthusiastic, productive, or successful members of the team. The jobs you excel at will be ones that really get you buzzing—that you find you enjoy in some way and have some intrinsic motivation for. Your interviewer wants to know if this job will be one of those jobs for you.

I think there's a danger here though.  I've seen many candidates try to connect what motivates them to the job description.  However, they don't quite get the skills and capabilities dimension of this question right.   Most candidates are eager to argue that they have the right skills for the job.  They wan to explain that they are highly qualified.   However, the best candidates also argue for why this position will be challenging in some respects.  In what ways will it help them grow and develop? Where's the stretch in this position for them?   Being able to argue that you are highly qualified, yet there is also some opportunity to grow and develop, is essential to answering this question effectively.  Otherwise, the interviewer will wonder:  Will this person be ready to move on after only a short period of time?  Will this position be engaging enough to keep them interested and intrinsically motivated?   It's a delicate balancing act, of course.  You don't want to portray the position as too much of a stretch... but on the other hand, you don't want to make the case that it will be a piece of cake either.  The best candidates walk that fine line, and in so doing, they make a powerful case for landing that desired position.  

Friday, August 05, 2016

Team Retrospectives: Driving Learning & Improvement

In a blog post this week, The Design Gym offers an inside look into their "team retros" that they conduct each month.  Other organizations describe such processes as post-mortems, lessons learned exercises, or after-action reviews.   The Design Gym conducts these sessions each month, with skilled facilitation and a simple process that all must follow.  They have a straightforward six-step process:

1.  Check-in: Each person checks in by jotting down a sentence or drawing a sketch that highlights how they feel about the past month's activities, accomplishments, and failures.  

2. Solo Reflection: Each person spends some time alone jotting down their thoughts about the past month's activities on sticky notes.  

3. Share Out: Each person spends a few minutes putting their sticky notes up on the wall and explaining their reflections and conclusions.

4.  Themes, Insights, and Red Flags: The team looks across all the shared reflections and tries to identify any recurring themes, insights, and red flags.  

5. Commitments: Each person completes an "I will __________" statement describing what they pledge to work on in the coming weeks to improve team and individual performance.   

6. Check-out: Each person takes a few moments to jot down a phrase or illustrate in a simple way their closing thought for the session, reflecting on all the discussion that has taken place.  

I've examined how many organizations conduct such retrospective sessions.  They seem simple to execute, but in fact, they can be very challenging to perform successfully.   Here are a few of my tips for conducting such sessions:
  • Don't jump to conclusions.  Focus first on the team's goals and the actual events that took place.  Build a solid shared understanding of the facts before trying to determine what went wrong (or right).  
  • Think systemically, not individualistically.  Don't focus on the person to blame for a failure.  Instead, consider the broader environmental, organizational, cultural, procedural, and technical drivers of performance.  
  • Spend time on success and failure.  We learn more effectively if we can compare and contrast different outcomes.   Don't just dwell on failures. 
  • Set priorities.  Don't come up with laundry list of things to do differently next time.  Focus on the few things that will matter most, and over which you have the most control.  

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Is There Such a Thing As Slow Prototyping?

IDEO designer Keaton Herzer has written a terrific blog post titled, "What the hell is Rapid Prototyping?"  Here's an excerpt:

It implies that there is an alternative — slow prototyping. I’m not aware of any design team that practices slow prototyping. That would be a waste of time and money for everyone and thatis super obvious. Let’s remind ourselves what the purpose of a prototype is: to test our ideas!  History and statistics tell us that our ideas are wrong MOST of the time. So most of our prototypes will get thrown out after being invalidated. If that’s the case, why would we do anything but prototype rapidly? If you’re going to build a prototype — build it. Then test it. Then learn how bad your ideas were. Then do it again.  I guess you could do that slowly if you wanted to, but I don’t see the point. There is no such thing as “rapid prototyping.” There is only prototyping — and you should be doing it rapidly.

I think slow prototyping does exist though, and it's not a good thing.  Consider how large companies engage in what they consider to be prototyping.  They build a mock-up of a potential new product.  However, they take quite some time to do so.  They try to make it as "beautiful" as possible, as free of imperfections and problems as they can imagine.  Why?  They are actually trying to validate an idea that they have.  It's a demonstration to others in the organization, often used to solicit resource commitments.  It's not actually prototyping.  Why is it slow?  They do not want to hear lots of criticism.  They want positive feedback, so they take lots of time to make it as "good" as they can.   To me, that's the type of slow prototyping that does exist in many organizations, and it often is counterproductive.   It inhibits learning and adaptation, and thereby prevents the type of rapid improvement that Herzer describes.  

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Does Your Firm Conduct "Declined Offer" Interviews?

In a blog post for Harvard Business Review, executive coach Ben Dattner makes the case for conducting "declined offer" interviews at your organization.   He argues that organizations should interview job candidates who are made an offer, but who choose to work somewhere else.   Why did they take another offer?  What made your firm less attractive than another organization?  Was it simply money, or were there other key factors in the decision-making process?   Here's how he describes this technique and the reasons for employing it: 

Successfully competing for top talent involves both selling jobs to the best candidates and retaining the highest performing incumbents. In order to be seen as an employer of choice with a compelling value proposition for employees, many companies measure turnover and conduct exit interviews with departing employees to gather feedback about the experiences people had working there and the reasons why they’re leaving. But a less common practice is to track how many people turn down job offers at your company, and an even less common practice is to actually gather feedback from candidates who receive offers but don’t accept them. Like “exit interviews” these “declined offer” interviews can yield a lot of information about your own organization as well as valuable data about your industry and competitors.   While academic institutions often gather feedback from students who are accepted but do not matriculate in order to improve student recruitment and retention and to better compete with rival institutions, doing so with job candidates in a systematic and consistent manner is rare in the corporate world. As with other kinds of selling and marketing, you may learn as much, if not more, from the feedback of customers who choose not to buy as you learn from those who do.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Does Hosting the Olympics Make Economic Sense?

Each year, we hear about the amazing construction programs embarked upon by countries and cities hosting the Olympic Games.  The cost of hosting the Olympics has skyrocketed.  The Beijing Olympics reportedly cost more than $40 billion!  No worries, claim the host cities... The economic benefits will be tremendous and long-lasting to boot!   Is that actually true?  Does hosting the Olympic Games make economic sense?  Is there a positive return on investment for host cities?   Most academics argue that hosting the Olympic is a losing proposition, from a purely financial perspective.  One or two cities have seen a positive return on investment, but most have not.   The research is abundant and quite clear.   Here's an excerpt from an NPR article describing one such study: 

Allen Sanderson, senior lecturer at the University of Chicago who specializes in sports economics, investigated that question. He and a student, Samantha Edds, compared cities that hosted the Olympics with similar cities in the same country or region that did not. The cities were also comparable in other ways — size, population and tourist appeal.

They compared Atlanta, which hosted the Olympics, to Charlotte, which did not. They pitted Olympic city Barcelona against Madrid, and matched up Sydney, Australia, against Melbourne. They checked for marked growth in construction, tourism and the financial-services sector over a nine-year period — four years before the games, and five years after.

"We couldn't find any difference in terms of building permits, tourism, anything before or after," Sanderson says. "If you masked the name of the cities, you would not be able to tell which of these two cities had the Olympics and which did not."

According to Sanderson, this doesn't mean cities should stop competing to host the Olympics; it just means they should stop claiming that the games make economic sense. "We do lots of things that don't turn a profit," he says. "We own dogs. We have boats. Those things lose lots of money, but we know it." So cities, go ahead and host the Olympics. It's a great party. It's just a terrible investment.