Category Archives: management

Asshat Much?

Mike Henry of Lead Change Group wrote a great article in response to another by George Cloutier.

Mr. Cloutier’s article,entitled, “Your Company is Not a Democracy,” was published in Entrepeneur magazine. This “Turnaround Ace” and NY Times best-seller is a big proponent of the “just view me as god” approach to business management. Nice. He provides other nuggets such as “be a dictator” and (my personal favorite) “Tell your employees ‘Don’t think – obey.”

The Asshat

Asshat

I’m really at a loss for words. Really, George? Fear? Benevolent dicator? Is there such a thing? Really? We’re not indentured servants or furniture. I think the Soviets used a similar business model and we all know how that worked out.

Read Mr. Henry’s article first and then go to Cloutier’s.

8pm – The above was written quickly this morning after reading both articles. I’ve had the day to reflect and want to expand upon my more visceral outburst above.

Unfortunately, I have seen it all too often (and, to an extent, am living it now); small business owners who believe as Mr. Cloutier does. They see employees more as burdens, a suck on company resources (profits). If a business is suffering, Mr. Cloutier teaches to blame the employee first. After all, if they were working harder, the company would be rolling in profits and the owner would be rich. Fear is not an effective motivator. It only gets you the bare minimum, just enough not to be fired.

Instead, maybe they should look at their business plan (if there is one), their growth strategy (if there is one) or even the industry/market. Maybe it is just dead, or over saturated.

Mr. Cloutier makes a snide remark in his article regarding the suggestion box. Employees aren’t paid to think, just obey. After all, if they were as smart or as great of a person, they would be running their own business.

Employees are smart. Listen to them, they are the ones doing the work. They might have innovative ideas that could cut costs, increase productivity, increase customer service.

I just hate reading articles like Mr. Cloutier’s. It just perpetuates bad behavior on the part of employers. That’s not managing or leading. It’s bullying. Times have changed. Feudal lords and serfdom went out of style a few years ago (I think).

Owners cannot do it alone. They need our help.


Focus…

I am not going to succeed and make my escape if I lose my focus and chase the wrong goal. I enjoy drawing my faces and writing this blog but they should not be my main focus. My focus should be playing to and improving upon my strengths which are more in line with simple organizational leadership. I have done this before and have done it well

Leadership Principal #3: Stay Focused

This applies to everything you do. Focus on your goal, whether it is in your daily work life or your dream of writing the great American novel or just to become a better spouse and parent. Focus on what it is you want to do, where you want to go.

I think I lost my focus for awhile. Have you?
(photo by Paul Watson)

"Resource" Lost…

Yesterday was the last day for a colleague on my project. He quit because he got tired of not being tasked and wasting time sitting around. About a month prior to his last day, he had contacted the task lead asking to talk, to see if something could be worked out for him to move to a busier project. She never made time to sit down with him. The day he dropped his resignation letter on her desk, she called all upset that he was leaving. She blew it! The time to talk was a month ago!

Leadership Rule #1: Listen!
I’ll say it again. LISTEN! I’m not the first one to say this but I don’t mind repeating it. If she had just taken the time to sit down and listen to Mike, he may have stayed. I have found that sometimes just listening to somebody, letting them get things off their chest and showing real concern for their point of view is enough. Sometimes nothing can be done. Fine. Say that but still listen and try to understand.

Our lead did not listen until it was too late. She didn’t have time or respect or whatever to take 3o minutes and find out why Mike was unhappy. Now he has moved on and she is scrambling to find a replacement.


Google…

Fast Company’s feature article today talks about Google, one of its Fast 50 for 2008. The article is fascinating. I used to work with a guy who has a good friend working for Google. He had told me of some the things they did for their employees (free shuttle bus commuting with WiFi, encouragment to work on their own projects). It sounded good but the article goes into the culture of the company. Instead of CYA environment, it is open to ideas, no matter how outrageous. Some of what Google offers today are from the imaginations of the regular developers. Most places, ideas aren’t considered relevant unless suggested from those at the top. The worker bees are just, workers. It is refreshing to read about a company that actually values it employees and their ideas and does not treat them as just another “resource.”

8-Hour Days

I’m reading Seth Godin’s book,“Small is the New Big,” and yesterday came across this sentence, “There is no correlation at all between success and hours.” (emphasis is his) What a refreshing thing to read. I can’t agree more. I can buy the fact that there are surge periods requiring putting in a few extra hours but this should be the exception, not the rule.

The proposal process is neverending in the IT contracting world. Many companies, especially the larger ones, subscribe to the notion of encouraging, or making, its people put in long days during while assigned to a proposal team. It is all too common.

An old boss use to say, “I’ll buy you lunch but I won’t buy dinner.” He wanted people to be home with their families for dinner. He made a point to tap people on the shoulder around four or five in the afternoon and tell them to knock off for the day.

He believed, as do I, you should be able to complete your work through the course of an 8-hour day. To me, a team that has to put in 12-hour (or longer) days to complete a proposal suffers from either poor planning, not enough people, or the wrong people being assigned.


Spoke in the Wheel…

One of the principals of my company asked me today, “What can [we] do differently?” I immediately started to talk about being more efficient in certain processes. Which is true. There are some things we could do a little smarter that would make life better for those involved.

A quick story. Our company is very small and the business development effort right now consists of one permanent person who is assisted by to of the company officers. I volunteered my help during one proposal effort and I could not believe the amount of gratitude I received for such little effort. It was nice but I did not think I was really doing all that much. I told the BD person, “There are a lot of people in this company with skills that can help. You just need to reach out.”

So, in answer to the question, what can be done differently, my first answer is the company needs to involve more people in the processes of running the company. One person to do it all becomes very overwhelming for that person, likely to cause them to burnout.

A little later I was reading through Seth Grodin’s blog and followed some link’s to this Squidoo page. It got me to thinking more about his question. What I am starting to see, too, is a company that has lost some its identity. In the quest to grow and find new opportunities, I think it has lost sight of how it originally saw itself. What is its definition and strategy?

I did mention this, somewhat, during our conversation. I said the company needs to broaden its horizons and not put all of its eggs in one basket, so to speak. We need to branch out, making our current customer-base one “spoke” in the company wheel. Once we identify who we are, our type of wheel, the spokes should fall into place.


Marketing Myopia

I am working towards my MBA in an effort to get me out of hell. At the beginning of marketing class we had to read the article, “Marketing Myopia” by Theodore Levitt. This is an incredible article. He talked about defining your company and being customer-oriented rather than product-oriented. Failing to do this causes companies to not grow or fail. I see this all of the time in the contracting world. These small companies do not know who there customer is or how they want to brand themselves.

My first job out of the military was as a program manager for a small contracting company. The president was an engineer who’s specialty was in embedded work in C and C++. His main focus was to do only embedded, C and C++ development. One of its first big clients was for an office doing embedded coding in C and C++. As the company started to grow, it brought in non-engineers to do recruiting, business development and program management. We “outsiders” saw that this was risky. the company was putting all of its eggs in one basket. In this environment, contracts can end without notice and next thing you know, you have a dozen or so people sitting on the bench eating up overhead dollars.

There were other opportunities out there to grow the company if it would expand itself into other areas. The president would not allow it. He did not want to do Java, he did not want to do web page development, or networking, or anything else. His mantra continued to be “Embedded C and C++ development.” Eventually, the scenario from above happened. Contracts ended for one reason or another and we found ourselves with a lot of overhead charging. The customer had decided to not hire contractors to do embedded work but instead hire their own employees for this type of work. The eggs were being tossed out of the basket.

The company’s ten year anniversary was on a Thursday. A lot of “rah rah” and “the future is bright” talk. As a gift, we all received travel coffee mugs with the company logo. The next day, I along with the other program manager and the recruiter were all let go. We were hurting the company financially. The VP for Business Development had left the month prior and the company was not growing, a lot of overhead. As a joke, I tell people now to never take the coffee mug when attending company all-hands meetings. It’s a trap to figure out who should be laid-off.

At its high point, the company employed almost 50 people. It had went from 10 to almost 50 in about 18 months. Now, it is back down to right around 20 with a lot still on overhead. This is all because the company defined itself very narrowly. It did not see itself as an IT company or even a software development company. It was a embedded, C/C++ company. A broader definition would have allowed it to expand into other areas and more easily absorb the overhead costs. It fell into the same trap Mr. Levitt described when talking about railroad companies in the mid 1900s. They defined themselves as railroad companies not transportation companies. This caused problems as other modes of transportation arrived in the 1900s like trucks and airplanes.

I don’t do business development or marketing work – yet. But when I do, my first questions will always be “Who is your customer?” and “How does the company define itself?” Someday.


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