Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Power of a Free Popsicle

Source: TripAdvisor
Chip and Dan Heath, best-selling authors of books such as Made to Stick and Switch, have published another terrific book.   In The Power of Moments, the Heath brothers examine how we can create defining and memorable experiences for our customers, employees, and others.   Chip Heath explains that perfection at every step is very difficult to achieve, but we can identify very important moments where our organizations can shine: 

“Jan Carlzon [former CEO of Scandinavian Airlines] coined the phrase ‘moments of truth’ and talked about getting right the thousands of touchpoints with customers that happen daily. I don’t think you have to fix thousands of touchpoints. Maybe you want to have one defining moment at the gate and one moment at the luggage reclaim area. Maybe you want to invest in an entertaining flight safety video that people actually enjoy watching, like Virgin America.”

The book features a terrific example.  They cite The Magic Castle Hotel, the fourth highest rated hotel on TripAdvisor in Los Angeles, California.  The top three hotels are high-priced, luxury hotels.   Magic Castle costs only $199 per night. The accommodations are not luxurious. The Heath brothers describe it as, "a converted two-story apartment complex from the 1950s, painted canary yellow … [with] a pool that might qualify as Olympic size, if the Olympics were being held in your backyard."  

What makes customers so delighted to stay at Magic Castle?   The hotel has created several powerful defining moments for its customers.  These memorable moments demonstrate the hotel's commitment to its guests, and provide a little unexpected delight for those who stay there.  As an example, the Heaths describe the "Popsicle Hotline" at the hotel.   If you are relaxing by the pool, you can dial his hotline and request a free popsicle in your favorite flavor.   Soon, a hotel employee arrives in white gloves to deliver that popsicle to you on a silver platter.    Can you imagine that?  It sounds silly, but it certainly provides a small moment of joy for the guests.  Many of them go on to tell others about this amazing little experience by the pool.   In a world full of brusque customer service and disappointing experiences at restaurants and hotels, this defining moment sticks out.  

What the defining moments that you can create for your customers and employees?   

Monday, February 26, 2018

Scale and Profitability: The Link is Not As Strong as Many Executives Believe

James Allen, co-leader of Bain Consulting's strategy practice, has written a short article for the Wall Street Journal about the scale advantages (or lack thereof) of industry leaders. Allen reviews the findings from research the firm conducted across 45 industries.   Certainly, scale had its advantages in many of these industries.   However, it's far from a guarantee of success.  Allen summarizes the conclusions:

Strikingly, we found that on average, 80% of the economic profit pool was concentrated in the hands of just one or two players in each market. These strong performers generated nearly two times their cost of capital in profits. And among these economic leaders, 40% were not scale leaders at all. These best-performing companies, it turns out, achieve economic leadership in other ways.

As I've written before on this blog, executives consistently overestimate the benefits of scale.  This study should cause them to reconsider their beliefs.   Moreover, the biggest firms should ask themselves:  In what ways are our scale and scope key disadvantages relative to innovative newcomers?  

Friday, February 23, 2018

Cross-Cultural Disaster: Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau in India

Business Insider reports this week on the trip that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to India.    The entire trip represents a classic example of what NOT to do when traveling to a different country.   Trudeau appeared unprepared to deal with some very sensitive issues and committed some political blunders.   Even more astonishingly, he seemed to try far too hard to embrace the local culture, and in so doing, he looked very, very foolish.  Business Insider writes:

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, normally a darling of Western media, has been roundly, and sometimes savagely, mocked for a trip to India that included cultural, fashion, and political blunders at every turn...On several occasions Trudeau and his family appeared dressed in traditional Indian clothing, something other Western politicians don't usually attempt with such vigor.  Prominent Indian personalities expressed their distaste for Trudeau's dress, with India Today calling it "tacky." Trudeau showed up at an event full of Bollywood stars in full traditional dress, while the movie stars themselves simply wore black suits.  On social media, popular Indian personalities put it more bluntly, calling for Trudeau to "have some chill" and calling his outfit choices "fake and annoying."

There's a very important lesson here.  Do your homework before you visit another country.   Learn about important customs, rituals, and traditions.  Respect key religious and cultural differences.  Take the time to learn at least a few words of the local language.   However, don't try to pretend that you are a native citizen.  Be who you are.  Be a respectful and authentic visitor who wants to learn, not somebody looking to rack up "brownie points" with the local people.   

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Success Theater at GE: Ambitious Targets and Hiding Bad News

Thomas Gryta, Joann Lublin, and David Benoit have written a lengthy feature article in the Wall Street Journal today about GE's struggles. The authors describe a "confidence culture" where senior executives set very ambitious targets and exuded relentless optimism about achieving those goals. Moreover, people found it difficult to push back and suggest that these objectives might not be achievable. Jeffrey Immelt seemed to downplay clear signals that the goals could not be achieved, perhaps selectively looking for information that would confirm his preexisting beliefs about what they could achieve as an organization. Gryta, Lublin, and Benoit write:

GE’s precipitous fall, following years of treading water while the overall economy grew, was exacerbated, some insiders say, by what they call “success theater.” Mr. Immelt and his top deputies projected an optimism about GE’s business and its future that didn’t always match the reality of its operations or its markets, according to more than a dozen current and former executives, investors and people close to the company.... Mr. Immelt didn’t like hearing bad news, said several executives who worked with him, and didn’t like delivering bad news, either. He wanted people to make their sales and financial targets and thought he could make the numbers, too, they said.

The article raises an important question for all leaders: How do you know if you have set overly ambitious goals for the organization and put harmful pressure on your people? How might we rethink what it means to stretch the organization? Here are my thoughts. It can be very productive to set a long term goal (3 years or more) of creating a breakthrough new product or entering a whole new market. Framing that goal in a way that provides meaning to people's work is important when setting that long term goal. Ask yourself: What is our purpose here? How are we trying to make our customers' lives better? Stretching your people in this way can be very inspiring. Setting over-the-top ambitious short term financial targets, on the other hand, can be dangerous. It can even lead to unethical or illegal behavior, as people feel pressured to deliver and to hide bad news. It also doesn't inspire people if you simply aim to achieve higher ROI or market share. Think about goals about which your people will feel passionate and inspired. 

Moreover, co-creating highly ambitious goals can be much more productive than establishing them in a top-down manner. What do your people want to achieve? What bold moves would they like to pursue? What do they care passionately about, and what do customers care deeply about as well? Finally, You have to create a healthy feedback loop. How are things really going? Where are we finding it difficult to meet our objectives? Being honest doesn't mean walking away from stretch goals. It does mean understanding how things are transpiring differently than you had hoped, and adjusting your plans accordingly. Work together with your people to figure out how to surmount obstacles, rather than simply telling them to charge up that hill again. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Stop the Reorganizations!

Many chief executives initiate a substantial reorganization during the early stages of their tenure.  for some companies, reorganiations become a seemingly annual event.   No one has any idea what the updated organization chart looks like, because it is changing so often.    Does all this reorganization add value? Probably not. One recent McKinsey and Company study concluded that only 16% of restructurings could be characterized as an “unqualified success.” Similarly, Bain and Company found that most reorganizations do not generate improved results.  Why do leaders enjoy redrawing the boxes and lines on the organiation chart so often?  Frankly, it's easy to do.  Taking other types of actions to enhance performance can be much more challenging and time consuming.   Too often, leaders choose the easy path, despite the proven lack of efficacy.   Somehow they think that their firm will be different.  

Confusion and ambiguity hamper productivity in these organizations that are constantly changing reporting relationships.   Moroever, people become frustrated by the disruptions to work processes and routines.  Wharton’s Peter Cappelli compares serial reorganizing to prescribing antibiotics very frequently for minor infections. You might alleviate the pain at that moment, but harm the patient over time. Cappelli notes, “The constant churning caused by these reorganizations generates costs and develops long-term cynicism about why they are done and what they mean.”

Monday, February 19, 2018

Secrets to Success for Norway's Ski Team

Source: www.wwlp.com 
Bill Pennington has written an interesting article about the Norwegian ski team in today's New York Times.  I first heard about this ski team's interesting dynamics during a feature on NBC's Olympic broadcast a few days ago.  The Norwegian ski team has amassed many medals and championships over the years, including a strong performance at this winter's Olympics in South Korea.   Naturally, many factors might account for their success.  Interestingly, though, the Norwegian skiers contend that team dynamics plays an important role, despite the fact that the sport is highly individualistic.   Team members explain that they abide by five basic ground rules:

1.  No jerks allowed - You have to subvert your ego and abide by the golden rule - treat others the way that you would like to be treated.  

2.  No class structure - Aleksander Kilde explains that there is no pecking order on the team.  They treat each other as equals, whether someone is a champion or a rookie.  

3.  The social quality of the team is of primary importance - you must act in ways that preserve the collaborative environment within the team.  People share knowledge and best practices with one another, rather than hording information and keeping secrets.   They try to help each other achieve their personal best. 

4.  Talk to each other, not about each other - Don't go behind other's backs with complaints. Have honest conversations directly with one another.  

5.  Friday night is taco night - They step away from their busy schedules to share a meal together every Friday night.  

Clearly, the five rules do not explain all of the Norwegian team's success.  However, they do offer a good template for how to begin building a better team, even if you are far from an alpine ski course.  

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Strong Airline Profitability? Is it Really About Fees?

Source: Dallas News
For decades, the airline industry has been characterized by abysmal profits. The list of airline bankruptcies is seemingly endless. However, the Wall Street Journal reports this week that U.S. airline industry profitability is very strong at the moment - "healthier than ever" according to the headline.  The newspaper credits the litany of fees charged by airlines for the strong income numbers:  

Profit per passenger at the seven largest U.S. airlines averaged $19.65 over the past four years—record-setting profitable years for airlines. In 2017, it stood at $17.75, based on airline earnings reports. In truth, airlines now cover their costs with tickets and get their profits from baggage fees, seat fees, reservation-change fees and just about all the other nickel-and-diming that aggravates customers. You might also call those extra 12 to 15 passengers now crammed onto each flight “Andrew Jackson” for the profit they bring... U.S. airlines were on pace to take in more than $4 billion in baggage fees and $3 billion in reservation-change and cancellation penalties in 2017, according to Transportation Department data. (The full year hasn’t been tallied yet.) Most of that drops straight to the bottom line. The two categories add up to about more than half of the net profits airlines posted last year.

A couple of sentences toward the end of the article identify the airline with the highest profit margins in the industry.   Accoridng to the Wall Street Journal, Southwest tops the industry with a 16.5% net profit margin, nearly double the average margin in  the industry (9%).   Actually, the newspaper does not account for a one-time tax benefit of roughly 6%.  After adjusting for that figure, Southwest's advantage over the rest of the industry is much narrower.   Still, Southwest generated strong profits, as it has in the past.  The article does not delve into the reasons for that profitability.  Southwest Airlines does not charge baggage fees, unlike nearly all of its rivals.   Southwest also does not administer ticket change fees, unlike nearly all of its rivals.   How then does it generate strong  margins in the industry?  That's the question that the newspaper should explore.   

In weaker economic times, the other airlines may find it much more difficult to continue to generate strong consumer demand while charging so many fees.  A more sustainable competitive advantage comes from a distinctive strategy and organization, as Southwest has developed over many years.   Many scholars have studied this question over the years.  Perhaps it's old news to the Wall Street Journal, but that old news offers much more enduring lessons for managers than the story of how piling on fees has juiced profits recently for some players. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Nordstrom Unlocks Its Changing Rooms

Source: NY Times
Luxury retailer Nordstrom continues to innovate in hopes of surviving and thriving in the embattled department store business. The Wall Street Journal reports today on many of the experiments that the firm is conducting. For example, Nordstrom chose to stop locking its fitting rooms recently. The WSJ reports on the change:

In November, the company unlocked the fitting rooms in its department stores. Many retailers keep them locked to discourage shoplifting, but the practice annoys customers. Although theft has increased slightly since Nordstrom made the change, executives say, the retailer is sticking with the new policy.  “Analysts don’t like it,” Jamie Nordstrom said. “But I’m thinking about the next 50 years, not the next quarter.”

I've always found these types of moves interesting.  Typically, managers conduct cost-benefit analysis when they make key decisions.  However, in certain cases, the costs can be quantified rather easily, but the benefits are not as well-defined.  Many managers would not go through with this decision because the cost-benefit analysis does not justify it.  Here, the costs of increased theft can be measured precisely.   The benefits from increased customer satisfaction may be much more difficult to evaluate and quantify.  Still, Nordstrom knows that its loyal customers do not appreciate the locks on the changing room doors.  Will this small change enhance customer loyalty?  Will people be more likely to try on multiple outfits now?  Might it increase the size of the average transaction per store visit?  Some of these things can be measured with time and some creativity.  In certain cases, though, managers simply have to side with the customer, recognizing that it may not pay immediate dividends.  In the long run, Nordstrom won't win against online competition through better assortment or lower prices.  They have to create a superior in-store experience.  This small step appears to be moving in the right direction on that front.  

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Advisers and Uncertain Advice

Celia Gaertig and Joseph Simmons have published a paper titled, "Do People Inherently Dislike Uncertain Advice?"   The authors focus on the longstanding research finding that individuals prefer confident to uncertain advisors.   Individuals generally don't want take advice from someone who does not appear self-assured.  Gaertig and Simmons extend this research by examining the question:  Do people exhibit an aversion to uncertain advice itself?

The scholars studied advice evaluation in a series of studies focused on issues such as sports predictions, finance, and weather.  Their findings proved remarkably consistent.   Indeed, people evaluate confident advisers more favorably than those who appear uncertain and hesitant.  However, people do not necessarily dislike uncertain advice.   Here is an excerpt from their paper: 

In eleven studies, we found that people do not inherently dislike uncertain advice. We observed this in studies of sports, weather, and stocks. We observed this in studies that operationalized uncertain advice as imprecision, as statements of numerical probability, and as statements of non-numerical uncertainty. And we observed this in studies in which people directly evaluated the advice and in studies that asked people to choose between an advisor who provided certain advice versus one who provided uncertain advice.  

This paper gives me comfort.  It shows that people are quite capable of sifting through advice, and recognizing the merits of advice couched in the form of probabilities.  We do not expect complete certainty.  That's a good thing, as I believe we should be skeptical of advice and predictions that seem to express absolute certainty.    We just might be more rational than some people think!  

Monday, February 12, 2018

Communicate Goals, Then Test for Understanding & Learn from Your Audience

Leaders often assume that people at all levels understand the organization's goals and objectives.   Is that presumption correct?  In too many cases, it is not.  What happens?   First, leaders do not recognize that they must communicate those goals repeatedly - in different ways, through different channels, and using different media.   It is not sufficient to address goals once or twice at the outset of the year. You have to beat that drum reepeatedly.  However, you also must make a compelling case for why front-line employees should care about those goals and objectives.  Ask yourself: So what?  How can you answer that question for the workers at all levels.  Why should they care?   

Even more importantly, though, leaders have to test for understanding.  A leader has to put his or her finger on the pulse of the organization, so as to determine whether people heard and comprehended the message.   How do you put your finger on the pulse of your firm?  Certainly, managing by walking around helps.  Meeting people informally, perhaps in small group lunches in the cafeteria, can be useful as well.   Finding ways to solicit and address employee questions is crucial.   Asking them to play back what they have heard from their managers is a useful technique.  Listen carefullyas they speak to you.  Don't put words in their mouths.   Ask them to be as specific as possible about the sources of their confusion.  

If they didn't understand the goals or misintrepreted them, don't blame the audience!  It's not their fault for misunderstanding your message.  You have to learn from them, and you must clarify and modify the communication accordingly.   Ask for their help!  Often, the audience can help you craft a more compelling and easy-to-understand message.  

TEDx Bryant 2018

I enjoyed speaking at the inaugural TEDx Bryant event on Saturday, February 10th.  I look forward to sharing the video via YouTube as soon as it is posted.  My talk addressed the topic, "Does the Devil's Advocate Kill Creativity?"  

Saturday, February 10, 2018

L.L. Bean Alters Its Unlimited Returns Policy

L.L. Bean announced a major change in its famous product return policy yesterday.   The Maine-based retailer always used to allow customers to return goods years after purchase with no questions asked.  Their lifetime guaruantee stood out as one of the distinctive elements of the firm's value proposition and brand positioning. Now, though, the company has put a one-year limit on product returns. Here is what the company told the Wall Street Journal: “For over 100 years, our guarantee has worked just fine, but in the past five years in particular, our guarantee has been misinterpreted as a lifetime product replacement program and we have seen a large influx of returns that have nothing to do with product quality or satisfaction."  Boston.com reported on the rampant customer abuse of the L.L. Bean's longstanding policy, leading to this change in company policy:

Over the past five years, the company has lost $250 million on returned items that are classified by the company as ‘‘destroy quality,’’ said L.L. Bean spokeswoman Carolyn Beem. ‘‘Destroy quality’’ items are destined for the landfill. First-quality products are returned to store shelves and ‘‘seconds’’ are sold at outlets or donated to charity. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of people clearing out basements of used or unwanted L.L. Bean products, sometimes decades after their purchase. Some customers replace the same items year after year to get the latest outdoor gear. Some even head to thrift stores, yard sales or junkyards to retrieve L.L. Bean items that they then return.

Sadly, a small minority of customers have spoiled it for the rest of the company's loyal fans.  For L.L. Bean, the policy change is not without risk.   However, the fact that competitors, including REI, had already made similar changes in recent years lessens the risk.   Moreover, the company does leave itself the ability to address customer concerns on a case-by-case basis.   The new policy on the L.L. Bean website states "If you are not 100% satisfied with one of our products, you may return it within one year of purchase for a refund. After one year, we will consider any items for return that are defective due to materials or craftsmanship."   In other words, if you are a loyal customer and have a return after one year, the company retains the ability to address your concerns.  They simply do not want to have to provide a blanket, open-ended return policy for all.   

In general, I think L.L. Bean appears to be handling this issue well.  They clearly did their homework vis a vis loyal customers and their competitors before making this change.  However, I do wonder why they didn't choose to simultaneously announce some other measures to demonstrate their commitment to their most dedicated fans.   An olive branch to the hard-core fans, offered in conjunction with this policy change announcement, might have provided a more upbeat message and offset some of the negative reaction they surely will receive.   

Friday, February 09, 2018

Overconfidence in Founder-Led Firms

Bradley Hendricks and Mark Lang, and Kenneth J. Merkley evaluated 11,285 10-Ks reports filed by firms that went public between January 1, 1997 and December 31, 2013.  They have published a paper about a key distinction between the filings of founder-led firms and companies led by non-founders. The paper is titled, “Through the Eyes of the Founder: CEO Characteristics and Firms’ Regulatory Filings.”

Hendricks, Lang, and Merkley find a significant degree of overconfidence on the part of the founder-led firms.  They report, "Consistent with firms’ financial reports reflecting the founder’s optimism, we find that the 10-Ks for founder-led firms tend to be characterized by both more positive text and less negative text relative to 10-Ks for other firms."  

Prior research suggests that a positive tone in the 10K filing leads to a higher stock price.  However, the authors questioned how investors would react to the optimism conveyed by founder-led companies.  Perhaps investors would be attuned to the fact that entrepreneurs can exude overconfidence, and thus they would discount the optimistic statements made by founder-led firms.  What did they actually find?   Share prices rise in a similar fashion in the immediate aftermath of the 10K filing for both founder-led firms and those led by non-founders.  The authors state, "We find that investors do not appear to recognize founders’ tendency toward overoptimism and, instead, interpret tone for founder-led firms similarly to non-founder-led firms."  

What happens later on though?  For the full year after the 10K filing, the scholars found a negative relationship between the tone of the 10K and stock price performance for the founder-led firms.  No such negative relationship exists for the firms led by non-founders.   That finding supports the notion that investors mistakenly accept the overly optimistic pronouncements of founders initially, and the correction only takes place over time as they realize that the actual performance will not meet lofty expectations.   

What's the lesson here?  We need to analyze company pronouncements not simply in terms of the content, but in terms of the messenger as well.  Who is the company leader, and what is his or her background?  If he or she is an entrepreneur/founder, we might want to be a bit more careful about accepting their positive statements and projections.  

Thursday, February 08, 2018

How Status Disruptions Affect Teams

Marissa King and Ingrid Nembhard have conducted research on teams using a new set of methods and techniques. They used wearable sensors to collect real-time data about team member interactions and conversations.   King and Nembhard studied 66 teams in 13 healthcare centers.  They focused on the impact of assigning a nurse as a care coordinator for patients.  They expected this role to improve patient care outcomes, given that prior studies have shown that coordination failures in healthcare lead to poorer quality care and higher medical costs.   Surprisingly, the results did not work out as expected.   King explains: 

Everything was contrary to what we anticipated. We set up the experiment really to try to improve care through this care coordination intervention. We quickly realized that the intervention wasn’t nearly as successful as we anticipated going in. In fact, the elevation of the nurse’s position within a network actually induced status conflict. Increasing the nurse’s status within her team increased interruptions within the team; it decreased the amount of time that doctors and physicians and nurses were spending listening to each other. The interaction dynamics that ensued from elevating the nurse, rather than being better, actually got much worse...Everybody, I think, finds comfort in knowing where they sit. So when you change that, everybody is disrupted.

The study has some interesting implicaitons for teams in many industries.   People become accustomed to a certain pecking order and specific status dynamics within a team or organization.  Changing that dynamic certainly can be unsettling, in my experience.  I've seen it with faculty members elevated to leadership and administration roles, for instance.   I certainly have witnessed this type of unsettling disruption in the businesses with whom I have worked over the years.  However, I think some people are much more equipped than others to handle this dynamic.  When elevated to a coordination or management role, they recognize that the transition can be tricky for other team members.  They handle the situation with care, and they help people overcome the discomfort that comes with the disruption to the status hierarchy.   Others jump right into their new work, oblivious to the way that others will feel during this transition.  Empathy, in my view, is critical in this type of situation.  I would argue that the more empathetic individuals are able to move into a new management or coordination role more effectively.   

Friday, February 02, 2018

Misunderstanding The "Fail Fast" Philosophy

Many innovators adhere to IDEO founder Dave Kelley's philosophy: "Fail faster, succeed sooner." Recently, venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya took issue with Silicon Valley's embrace of this mantra during a talk at Stanford. He argued, 

“Fail fast” has become the conventional wisdom of Silicon Valley. And when it comes to consumer businesses and apps, that makes sense, says Palihapitiya. Consumer internet businesses like Facebook are about exploiting psychology, and businesses need to fail fast to keep pace with the shifting tastes and desires of consumers. But that formula doesn’t work for “anything that really matters,” he says. “It is not how you solve diabetes. It is not how you use precision medicine to cure cancer. It is not how you educate broad swaths of the world’s population.”

I strongly disagree with Palihapitiya's take here.  He has taken a far too narrow view of what the "fail fast" philosophy means.  Of course, a smartphone app is far different than curing cancer.  It's ok to fail if you launch a social media app into the market.   However, you do not want to put a poorly designed cancer drug out into the market simply to get feedback.  The FDA would not allow that anyway.   However, that does not mean the "fail fast" philosophy should not be applied in industries such as healthcare, where the stake are very high.   You can still embrace the notion that innovation should occur through an iterative process filled with prototyping, experimentation, and testing.   Prototypes come in many forms; they do not have to be finished products that could do potential harm to users in the marketplace.   

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Doing Less, Then Obsessing

My former colleague, Morten Hansen, has written a terrific new book titled, "Great at Work: How top Performers Work Less and Achieve More."   Hansen built a dataset of roughly 5,000 individuals from all levels of organizations, from the C-suite to the factory floor.  He examined their performance, as well as their habits, routines, and work practices.   In the book, Hansen describes seven principles that characterize the approach of top performers.

His first principle, and perhaps most interesting one, is "doing less, then obsessing." Hansen published an essay in the Wall Street Journal recently, in which he describes this principle. He writes, 

The common practice we found among the highest-ranked performers in our study wasn’t at all what we expected. It wasn’t a better ability to organize or delegate. Instead, top performers mastered selectivity. Whenever they could, they carefully selected which priorities, tasks, meetings, customers, ideas or steps to undertake and which to let go. They then applied intense, targeted effort on those few priorities in order to excel. We found that just a few key work practices related to such selectivity accounted for two-thirds of the variation in performance among our subjects. Talent, effort and luck undoubtedly mattered as well, but not nearly as much... In our data, people who focused on a narrow scope of work, and said no to maintain that strategy, outperformed others who didn’t. They placed an impressive 25 percentage points higher in the performance ranking—the difference between being a middling and an excellent performer.

Of course, setting priorities, and saying no to those things that are not priorities, can be extraordinarily difficult for many of us. We don't just work extra long hours to please our boss. We also take on too many tasks at times out of our desire to be collegial and to be viewed as a team player in the organization. We don't want to let our peers down. Sometimes we take on more work now, in hopes that our peers will reciprocrate when we ask for their help. The inability to focus can be costly though. It can diminish our productivity, increase our stress, and reduce the quality of the output that we create.