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    Entries in Leadership (36)

    Wednesday
    Nov292017

    Take that for data: Who you hire and fire signals your culture

    Apologies in advance for the pretty deep NBA-themed take with a back story that you may not be familiar with unless you are a NBA League Pass junkie like me. But I will try (as always) to share enough of the sports side of the tale in hoped that the connection to HR and the real world makes sense. Or at least almost makes sense.

    Here's the sports side of the take. 

    On Monday, the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies fired head coach David Fizdale, their coach of slightly more than one season, after the team lost its 8th straight game and fell to a record of 7-12 on the season. Of note, one of the team's best players Mike Conley, (probably their best player), has been injured and has not played in the last 7 games. 

    Last season, Fizdale's first in charge, the team finished 43-39, and lost in the first round of the playoffs giving the coach a total record of 50-51. 

    Oh, two more things to toss into the blender before we try to connect this story to something the rest of us can relate to. One, Fizdale has a ton of respect around the league with high-profile players and coaches, (LeBron James, Vince Cater, Gregg Popovich who shared their surprise at the firing and admiration of Fizdale). Here's LeBron's reaction after hearing the news:

     

     

    And two, Fizdale has been at odds with one of the Grizzlie's top players, Marc Gasol, the two reportedly not seeing eye-to-eye on many aspects of how the team was being led. In the NBA, star players have a ton of influence and power, as there are not that many of them, and teams know they need two or three of them to have a chance to compete.

    Oh, there's a three, (sorry), in Fizdale's last game in charge, a loss to the Brooklyn Nets, Fizdale benched Gasol for the entire 4th quarter, (an unusual move for a coach to bench a star player in a close game). Gasol was quoted widely after the game indicating that the benching had never happened to him before and he was ticked off.

    A day or so later, word leaked out the Fizdale was fired.

    Got all that?

    So here's the thing about the Fizdale firing that we should think about in the context of our own organizations. Fizdale was fired for (at least 75% of the reason anyway), for not getting along with one of the team's best, and most popular players in Gasol. The reasons why the two didn't gel are unclear, but what was clear was that the coach Fizdale was probably tired of clashing with the player, and sitting him on the bench in a close game was meant to send a message to Gasol, the rest of the team, and more importantly, to team management and ownership that he (Fizdale), runs the team on the court, not Gasol, or any of the other players.

    And for that, or for mostly that, Fizdale was fired. Team management and ownership essentially sided with the player, leveraged the (convenient) recent losing streak as a primary reason for the firing, and made their star player, who is under contract until the end of 2020 and owed about $65M more from the team, happy.

    The clearest signs of any organization's culture is who is hired, who is fired, and by extension, the reasons why people are fired.

    Fizdale was fired for a personality and/or philosophy clash with one of the team's stars. And for that, he had to go. The message about the Grizzlie's culture is clear.

    Players, (at least star players), come first. The team has invested truck loads of cash in these players, the team needs them to perform in order to win (and sell tickets), and the team has concluded the best way to accomplish that is to keep the players happy.

    I will repeat it, the clearest sign of your organizational culture is who gets hired and who gets fired.

    The Fizdale story shows us what kind of culture the Grizzlies want to have.

    Take a look at your last 10 or 20 hires and fires and think about what signals these decisions are making to the rest of the employees, to candidates, to customers, and to the world.

    Finally, I will let you go with this small tribute to Fizdale - his now classic 'Take that for data' rant after a close playoff lost last season. (Email and RSS subscribers click through)

     

    Good luck coach on your next gig.

    Thursday
    May112017

    Probably not going to get a "Best Boss" mug from the staff any time soon

    Sometimes it can be really tough to be the boss.  Lots of calls, lots of emails, lots of meetings, and probably lots of people in the organization that want a little piece of your time.  They might need some direction, want to get your opinion on something, might need some clarification before taking an action, and sometimes the team just might want a little face time, you know, a little interaction with the boss. Sometimes people feel a little better after getting some 1-1 time with the big kahuna.

    So all that can get tiring for the boss. At least at times it can. The boss, too, has things to do.  The boss probably has his/her own agenda and priorities on any given day. The boss, sometimes, probably comes into work not in the best mood and maybe does not want to deal with any of this 'other' stuff that was not perfectly slated into their calendar for the day.

    So I can kind of get it when once in a while the boss does not really have time for small talk in the elevator or in the hall. Or when, even in a small company, you need about 3.5 weeks advance notice to maybe get 30 minutes on the boss' calendar to day your piece. I get it. I do.

    But time management is only one of the dozens of things a successful leader needs to be good at in order to succeed, and while I don't know for sure how to manage time effectively, (I am writing this at 11:30PM so I can attest), I do know that the wrong way for the boss to set expectations for the staff as to his/her availability and accessibility is to do what TV personality Steve Harvey dropped on his organization, (and as described in Mashable).

    Take a look at an image of Harvey's set of instructions to his staff that was reportedly sent at the start of the show's most recent season:

    Awesome stuff, right?

    Don't talk to me under any circumstances unless we have a meeting on the calendar in advance. Don't speak to me in the hall, don't linger outside the elevator, don't 'ambush' me in the makeup room - basically DO NOT APPROACH ME AT ALL.

    Love it.

    But at least Harvey dropped a 'please don't take offense' at the end of the 14 ways to not talk to Steve Harvey bomb.

    That will make it all better. 

    I actually kind of like some of Harvey's rules. I may try to enact a couple in my life too. And if I do, just please don't take offense.

    Tuesday
    Mar282017

    Don't assume everyone knows diversity is an issue at your company

    Pop culture fans probably know the name Aaron Sorkin - Oscar and Emmy award winner of movies/shows like "A Few Good Men", "The Newsroom", and "The West Wing", to name just a few. Sorkin has been a successful Hollywood creative type for years, decades even.  A Few Good Men was written in 1992 for a bit of reference.

    So since at least the release of the movie version of A Few Good Men, (late 1992 and  for which Sorkin wrote the screenplay, and is essential cable TV movie watching to this day), Sorkin has been an important, active, and influential Hollywood person. Around long enough to understand how the movie and TV business works, to know scores of company executives, producers, investors, as well as creatives like himself - other writers, actors, and behind the scene professionals.  

    Around long enough, (and making the assumption that he is not some kind of anti-social savant who only emerges from his office once every two years with his latest script), to be aware of one of Hollywood's most pressing, current, and heavily-discussed industry issues. Namely, the past and ongoing challenges for access, opportunity, and reward that have faced people of color, women of every color, and other less-represented groups. Last year's Oscars brought many of these issues to wider exposure with the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and discussion.

    So you would think, or assume, that a Hollywood veteran like Sorkin - experienced, successful, extremely well-known and with a pretty high profile, would have interesting or at least some kind of a view or opinion about Hollywood's ongoing diversity challenges.  You would think he may even have some advice, or a solution to propose. 

    You'd think wrong, apparently.

    According to a report in Variety, and expanded upon in Business Insider,  Sorkin expressed a lack of awareness of the issue, (not a lack of understanding, I am talking simple awareness here), of these issues that was kind of shocking.

    From the Business Insider piece:

    It's really hard to hide from the diversity issue that's plaguing Hollywood, unless apparently you're Aaron Sorkin. 

    The Oscar-winning screenwriter and creator of TV shows like "The West Wing" and "The Newsroom" sounded legitimately shocked when the topic came up while he was onstage at the Writers Guild Festival on Saturday, according to a Variety report of the event.

    While Sorkin looked back on his career and talked about issues of the day with moderator Elvis Mitchell, the topic moved to the need for more diversity in writers' rooms for TV shows. It seemed like Sorkin had genuinely never realized it was an issue in the industry.

    “Are you saying that women and minorities have a more difficult time getting their stuff read than white men and you’re also saying that [white men] get to make mediocre movies and can continue on?” he asked the audience, Variety reported.

    While conversation shifted to other topics, Sorkin still couldn't let go of this new insight.

    “You’re saying that if you are a woman or a person of color, you have to hit it out of the park in order to get another chance?” Sorkin reportedly said.

    Kind of amazing, it seems to me, that an industry vet like Sorkin would have been that unaware or indifferent to an issue which as recently as last year, dominated the discussion surrounding the most important industry event and awards show, a show which Sorkin might even have attended himself.

    But let's assume that was indeed the case, and Sorkin's success over the years, and his position as, well, an older white dude, has kept him pretty insulated from Hollywood's diversity discussion. It's not cool, but it is at least plausible. And if we take these quotes from Sorkin at face value, it seems at least mostly true.

    What do we take away from this, i.e., why should it matter to us and our organizations?

    Because the story reminds us that we can never just assume people with experience, who have been successful in their fields, who are perhaps the leaders in our organization, (and who might, possibly, have a little bit of 'Sorkin' in them), actually are cognizant to the potential diversity and inclusion issues in our companies and in industry more broadly.

    There are probably at least some leaders or influential people (say a hiring manager that hires for a large volume of positions), that might be of the mindset, like Sorkin, for whom these issues are just not a part of their experience and not on their radar as they make people and talent decisions.

    Sure, they may have glanced at your gender and diversity reports on hiring or promotions, but did they really interpret these the way you intended? Are you sure they understand the importance of this issue? Really sure?

    From the Sorkin story we are reminded not to assume the most successful people in the organization are aware of an issue that you think is obvious, that everyone has been talking about, and that you have actually taken proactive steps to address.

    It is probably worth checking on. You might end up as surprised at what you learn, just like our pal Aaron.

    Wednesday
    Jul272016

    VACATION REWIND: There are only 5 possible reasons for every business problem - Bar Rescue Edition

    NOTE: I am on vacation this week - please enjoy a replay of a piece from February of this year.

    ----------------------------------------------------------

    There are only 5 possible reasons for any business problem - Bar Rescue edition

    Some folks who know me know that about a thousand years ago I spent a fair bit of time working in the Middle East - in Saudi Arabia to be precise. And these same folks also know that every one of my probably hundreds of stories I have told about my time in Saudi fall into only five major categories - it was really hot, we had to find gray market beer, I played rugby with a wild group of expats, we socialized with the (mostly Irish and Canadian) nurses from the local hospital, and sometimes you had to deal with some scary police/security people.

    Every story, no matter how it starts, ends up in one of those five classifications. In fact, over the years I got tired of telling, (and people got tired of listening to) the old tales, and now I just list the five categories. The details of any one event or experience don't really matter all that much anyway. But the categories are still valid.

    What made me think about this again was that over the long weekend I caught a few episodes of a marathon one of my favorite reality TV shows - Bar Rescue. If you are not familiar with the show, the basic premise is this: Veteran bar and hospitality consultant and expert Jon Taffer gets summoned to 'rescue' or help fix a bar or bar/restaurant that is failing, and possibly about to go out of business. 

    Taffer will bring in a team of experts like a master mixologist, a chef, and designers and construction crews that together help to renovate the bar, motivate and train the owners and staffs, and redesign products and processes in hopes of giving the bar a new start and (hopefully), keeping it in business.

    But what's the connection to 'Steve's boring Middle East stories?' you might be asking. 

    Well it is this: Just like my dopey stories, every major problem facing the failing business owners in Bar Rescue falls into five categories as well. Sure there may be some subtle differences in specific situations, and most of these disaster bars suffer from multiple problems, but at their canter, they are mostly, remarkably, the same.

    Every failing bar's problems fall into one of these five categories, (with some specific manifestations where I can think of some).

    1. Lack of leadership from the bar owners - shows up in a few ways on the show, my favorite are the owners that simply get trashed drunk at the bar every night and have no idea what is really happening. Other times the owners are part-time or 'hobby' owners and have other businesses or jobs that keep them from paying enough attention to the failing bar.

    2. Terrible hiring decisions - often this is the 'professional' bar manager that has no idea what he/she is doing. Also, lots of 'friends and family' hiring of people that are totally wrong for the jobs they are in or are taking advantage of their relationship with the owner to get away with doing substandard work.

    3. Lack of attention to maintenance and upkeep - these are the bars with dead fruit-flies in the bottles, accumulated grease covering everything in the kitchen, and tubs of expired and/or rotting food in the walk-in. It is actually kind of shocking what some of these failing bars have allowed to let happen - at times it even threatens the health and safety of workers and customers.

    4. Little or no understanding of the market/customers - time and time again Taffer and his team have to advise and educate the bar owners about the local neighborhood, the main drivers of potential traffic to the bar, and how the bar stacks up against the local competition. Typically in these situations, the bar owners have failed to recognize and adapt to changes - trends, preferences, and expectations of customers that are not the same as they once were back when the bar was more successful.

    5. Failure to understand the economics - this one is pretty common the show and manifests itself in a few ways. Sometimes the owners really don't know how much money they are really losing or owe. Sometimes they don't have a good grasp on the financial drivers of their business, like knowing what food or drink items are most profitable. Or they are getting fleeced by staff (or even themselves) by giving away too many free rounds of drinks and not realizing how much that is hurting the business.

    Just like my Saudi stories can be pretty easily classified, every failing bar's problems on Bar Rescue can fit into one of the above categories. And the the more interesting thing about Bar Rescue than my stories, is that these bar/business problems are pretty likely the same broad set of categories just about and business faces too.

    Issues with leadership at the top. Bad hires, poorly trained staff, people in the wrong roles. Failing to keep track of the basic elements needed for any kind of success. Not keeping up with market and business condition changes. And finally, not watching and understanding the finances. Every problem (pretty much anyway), fits into one of these buckets.

    Figure out in which one of these buckets that most of your business problems fit and you, like the Bar Rescue team, will know where to spend your time and energy making things right.

    Friday
    Feb262016

    Leading vs. asking for a show of hands

    I am way more invested in this year's Academy Awards show coming up on Sunday than I have been since, well probably since ever.

    I have seen 7 of the 8 films that are up for Best Picture, and have tried to catch as many of the other films that have actors up or the main acting awards as well.

    On a long flight home yesterday I finally caught the Steve Jobs movie that features Oscar nominated acting performances from Michael Fassbender as Jobs, and Kate Winslet as Apple's marketing head Joanna Hoffman. I loved the movie, probably more than most, and I would not be surprised at all if Fassbender gets the upset and wins Best Actor over everyone's favorite choice this year, Leonardo DiCaprio from The Revenant.

    There was a great line in the Jobs film that stuck out for me as being one worth remembering. In the most tense scene of the film which showed the Apple board meeting and showdown between Jobs and then-Apple CEO John Sculley (which culminated in Apple's board voting to oust Jobs), Fassbender (as Jobs) hits Sculley with this killer burn:

    Artists lead, and hacks ask for a show of hands.

    Jobs was clearly trying to paint Sculley as a non-innovative, non-creative, corporate suit - and not the kind of person from which amazing ideas and products would stem.

    Two minutes later Sculley does indeed ask for a show of hands, (the Apple board vote), and Jobs is shown the exit door from Apple. We all know the rest of the story of course, with Jobs retuning to Apple several years later and saving the company from near insolvency.

    Jobs had plenty of flaws, and the film does a decent job of bringing some of these forward, but there can be little argument about how important he was to Apple and more broadly, to our relationship with technology today.

    Ok, that is it for me on the movies this year. Go check out Trish McFarlane and I on the HR Happy Hour Show with our Oscars preview where I sadly do not tap Fassbender for Best Actor.

    Have a great weekend!