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    Entries in career (155)

    Monday
    Jun132016

    Signs of the corporate death spiral #3 - Fifteen years between new products

    Some death spirals are shockingly abrupt, (the 'Secret' app, Theranos), and some others are so slow, and play out over such a long time horizon, that at times it must seem like the organization really isn't in a death spiral after all.

    But then something happens to reassure and remind everyone that indeed the organization is on the decline, just a little bit slower and a little harder to detect unless you're watching closely. Submitted for your consideration a recent announcement from the good folks at General Mills, a company you probably have not thought much about, if at all, in ages.

    From the piece 'This is General Mills' first new cereal in more than 15 years'

    General Mills the creator of iconic cereals like Cheerios, Lucky Charms, and Trix, is adding a new brand to its fleet. The cereal is called Tiny Toast, which the company describes as “tiny pieces of crunchy toast covered with even tinier pieces of delicious fruit.”

    It’s available in two flavors, strawberry and blueberry, and it’s made with whole grains and flavored with real fruit and other natural ingredients. According to a press release obtained by Fortune, the cereal contains no artificial flavors or colors.

    Though the food giant has consistently released new versions and flavors of its already-existing brands, this is the first all-new cereal that General Mills has launched in more than 15 years.

    To be fair to the folks at General Mills it isn't as if they have not introduced any new variations of their products in 15 years. After all there are at least 14 different varieties of Cheerios, many of which have been launched more recently. So it's not like the General Mills folks have been doing nothing over the years and have been just sitting back, contentedly counting those great Lucky Charms profits.

    General Mills is kind of in a rough spot for a few reasons. Cereal sales have been in decline for a decade or more, and folks that eat cereal tend to be loyal to one or two brands. So from General Mills perspective, it probably has not made a ton of sense to invest too much in new product development and market research in order to launch new brands of cereal into a declining market. 

    But still, nothing truly new, (and the 15th variety of the Cheerio isn't really 'new'), in over 15 years is definitely a sign of the death spiral, even if it is a long, slow, and hard to notice decline.

    What is the larger message that we can try to take from the General Mills situation?

    Probably that if you are thinking about your career, and the kind of organization you want to be a part of, taking a close look at the pattern and cadence of new product/service development and innovation is an important consideration. 

    Would you be happy sitting in a brainstorming session discussing what other fruit flavor you can sprinkle on top of a Cheerio? How about Pineapple Cheerios?

    Or would you rather be a part of an organization and an industry that is constantly looking to create, to invent, and to re-invent?

    Have a great week!

    Thursday
    May262016

    RECRUITING OPPORTUNITY: The Hotel Gym at 6AM on a Wednesday

    Quick take from the road on a busy Wednesday, (note to self, this should have been a 'Notes from the road' post, but I digress). 

    Tried to do the 'stay relatively healthy' bit early this morning by hitting up the Hilton gym at about 6AM or so today and walked into probably the most packed facility I think I have seen in weeks on the road. There were easily 40 or so folks already grinding out a run on the treadmill or faking their way through some pull downs on the lat machine.

    In fact, the place was so crowded, I noticed six or seven folks enter, look around, and then leave since pretty much every available piece of cardio equipment, (and most of the weight machines), were being used. This was at 6:19AM on a Wednesday.

    Now this may not seem all that remarkable, the hotel is pretty large and there are three or four different events and conferences going on here this week, so packing 50 people into a gym may not be as big a deal as I am making it out to be.

    But if you subscribe to the notion, as many folks do, that industry meeting and conferences like the ones going on at this hotel this week are great places for networking and recruiting then it stands to reason that at least some of the 'right' kind of folks you might be looking for can be found in the gym at 6 in the morning.

    The 6AM gym folks are (at least trying) to go the extra mile (pun intended), to keep their s%#% together while on the road - which isn't easy at these kinds of events where the overwhelming tendency is for folks to spend hours and hours sitting in hotel meeting rooms, hitting buffets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and hitting up the endless open bar each night.

    There are almost certainly recruitable and desirable candidates at every event.

    It could be the most recruitable ones are on the treadmill at 6AM. 

    Are you going to be there to meet them?

    Tuesday
    May242016

    The most important relationship on any team

    The most important relationship on any team (work, school, sports - any of them), is the one between the leader (boss, coach, manager), and the best or most talented performer on said team.

    Want some context?

    Check the comments from a recent interview with former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt when asked about his relationship with the Cavs' top player, the legendary LeBron James:

    “The role of the coach is much larger as far as impact and persona,” Blatt said. “It’s much more of a coaches’ show. In the NBA, it’s a players’ show.”

    He also said: “You better be on the same page as your best player. If not, you’re going to be in trouble.”

    Pretty savvy observation from Blatt, who was actually hired by the Cavs prior to LeBron's decision to leave the Miami Heat and return to his hometown club. Once LeBron made his decision to re-join the Cavs, Blatt's job quickly changed from one of developing a young team for the future to one of molding a more veteran club to compete for a championship right now.

    And the key to all of this was LeBron, and how (or if), LeBron and the new to the NBA coach would be able to co-exist.

    Fast forward about 18 months later and we know how things turned out. Blatt, LeBron, and the Cavs lost to the Golden State Warriors in the 2015 NBA finals and midway through the current season, and despite a stellar won-loss record, Blatt was fired by the Cavs.

    Ultimately, Blatt's undoing was his inability to find the optimal common ground between himself and LeBron, the best, most talented, and most charismatic player on the team. On paper, Blatt was 'in charge', but in reality, and by virtue of his talent, track record, and sustained contribution, LeBron was and is the most important member of the Cavs organization. When the organization, (and LeBron), determined that the relationship between Blatt and LeBron was not salvageable, well, Blatt had to go.

    It is probably tempting for managers and leaders to take an approach of treating everyone on the team more or less the same. It seems logical and equitable to spend equal amounts of time and energy on all the team members - making sure no one feels slighted or left out. We are all one team after all, right?

    But as sports in general, and the Blatt - LeBron story in particular remind us, not everyone on the team is actually 'equal'. Some team members contribute to overall team success much more than others. Some team members would be much, much harder to replace should they leave than others. Some team members exert significant influence over the rest of the team, much more than the average team member.

    Any leader's role is at least in part to be fair and honest with every member of the team. But the best leaders also realize that some team members play an outsized role in the overall team's success. And the very best leaders recognize that their relationship with these star performers is likely the most important one that they will have in the organization. 

    That is if they want to succeed, and if they want to ensure they won't end up like our pal David Blatt, on the outside looking in while the Cavs chase the NBA Championship yet again.

    Monday
    May232016

    I'm comfortable not knowing

    Note: Re-running a post from the archive, not (completely) because I didn't have time to write anything this weekend, but rather the very thing I wanted to write about sounded so familiar to me that I had in fact written about it before. Hope you enjoy...

     

    About a thousand years ago I was a newbie consultant working for a large, (actually quite large), implementation services arm of a equally large software company. As the software products that our consulting and implementation services group were responsible for implementing numbered in the dozens (if not more), and they were each one reasonably complex technologies, the company enrolled all newly hired implementation consultants in an extensive 8-week training program that was affectionately known as 'bootcamp'.

    The bootcamp consisted of 8 hour days, for 8 weeks, taking all of the new consultants through the details and inner workings of the most commonly purchased of the company's applications, giving us a reasonable facsimile of 'real-world' problems that needed to be solved via case studies, and took us through what life as a traveling software consultant was actually all about. Aside - the job and lifestyle was equally better and worse than we all anticipated, but that is a topic for another time.

    But even over an 8-week period, the amount of technical, functional, business, process, and project management material that was presented to us was immense and fast-paced, and truly, there was almost no way to actually remember I'd estimate more than about half of it. The rest, and certainly the more important parts of the knowledge needed to become a good consultant would take more time to acquire, and work in the field with real customers to reinforce.

    All of this setup is to get to the point of this post. I don't really remember anything specifically from the content of the 8-week training bootcamp save for one sentence that was uttered not from one of the excellent instructors or experienced consultants that led our training, but rather from one of my fellow bootcampers.

    At the end of a long week of intensive work on some complex application and technology concepts, our instructor was making a final point about some detail or another, and she noticed a look of confusion on the face of a student in the front of the class. She paused, explained the point once more, and then asked him point blank, "Do you understand what I mean by configuring setting ABC in order to allow the customer to do XYZ?" , (the specifics don't matter, and I don't remember what they were anyway).

    The student thought about the question for a second then replied, "No, I really don't understand. But I'm comfortable not knowing."

    The instructor was a little taken aback, tried to re-state the concept, and hammer it home so that it clicked with the student, but she missed the real point of his response. It was not that he didn't care about understanding the point she was making, or that he would never understand it, but rather in that setting, with that specific point competing with about 3,000 other ones we'd all been exposed to in the last few weeks, that is was ok to not understand. He was comfortable (his word), with his ability to access reference material, draw on his network of colleagues, do some of his own testing, etc. in order to understand the key point when confronted with the problem in the future.

    He was comfortable not knowing because he was comfortable in his ability to think about the problem, access relevant resources, and apply what he'd learned more generally in order to solve this specific problem. He didn't need to know everything, Heck, no one needs to know everything.

    I like people that don't claim to have all the answers. I especially like people that are willing to admit that they don't have all the answers, but know how to find them. 

    And are comfortable with that.

    Friday
    May132016

    Nothing but our own fear

    I was at the Globoforce WorkHuman Conference earlier in the week, and one of the more interesting aspects of this conference from the many that I attend in the course of the year is Globoforce's willingness to showcase speakers and topics that are not necessarily 'on the nose' with their specific set of technologies and solutions.

    Most conference, especially vendor user conferences, tend to be super-focused on product - what's happening with the product, what new features are being developed, which companies are adopting the product, how can you learn to use the product better - you get the idea. And that makes perfect sense for vendor user conferences since the one unifying element that generally is the purpose and the binder for the event itself is the actual product. No products, no users, no user conferences. Pretty simple.

    And while there was certainly some of that product related content at the Globoforce event, it did not seem at all like the primary reason for the event, and the driver for most attendees to take the time to be there. Globoforce and the community of folks at the event did (mostly) seem to be there for a more general, conceptual, and different reason - the idea of making work more 'human.'

    What can make, or should make work more 'human' is at the same time a simple and kind of complex topic, (and not the same for everyone). I wrote about my ideas on this a couple of weeks back, so I won't go into them again here. But by making this non-product centric concept the central theme of your user conference, it frees up the organizers to make some interesting choices in terms of speakers and topics.

    For me, one of the highlights of the event was a wide ranging Q and A session with the legendary actor Michael J. Fox. In the Q and A, Fox shared really openly and passionately several stories from his long acting career as well as his well-known and continuing battle with Parkinson's disease.

    The conversation was full of gems, (like Fox lost out to Matthew Broderick for the lead role in one of my favorite films, 'War Games'), but the below quote, (which I tweeted of course, because that is what you do), was for me the idea that I am pretty sure I won't soon (if ever) forget.   

     

    For some context, Fox was asked about if was ever scared or afraid of his condition and the ongoing battle with Parkinson's when he made the observation about fear - his lack of fear and the fear he senses others see when they talk with him about his condition.

    This observation also reminded me of my single favorite Star Wars quote. Yes it is from Yoda, and no it's not the worn out 'There is no try' line.

    The one I am thinking of is from The Empire Strikes Back from the part of the film when Luke is on Dagobah to train with Yoda and learn about the Force. 

    Here's the setup and the line from Yoda (thanks IMBD).

    Luke: There's something not right here... I feel cold. Death.

    Yoda: [points to a cave opening beneath a large tree] That place... is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.

    Luke: What's in there?

    Yoda: Only what you take with you.

    The 'fear' Michael J. Fox talked about was our fear, not his.

    The 'evil' in the dark side cave wasn't really in there, rather it is carried in there by the seeker him or herself.

    I think we often forget that most of our fears are within us. Not a product of some scary, external circumstance.

    We choose what we see. We choose what we carry with us into that cave.

    And what is really remarkable that what led me to think about these things for the last two days was something I heard at an HR conference.

    Have a great weekend.