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    Entries in management (15)


    The Juergen Bomb: Three reasons why a new leader makes a strategic firing

    A couple of weeks back I riffed on NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's decision to crack down amazingly tough on (disgraced, probably racist), soon-to-be former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling following the release of audio tapes that revealed once and for all time how horrible a person is Mr. Sterling.

    Commissioner Silver went full nuclear on Sterling - fining him the maximum allowable amount according to league policy, banning him for life from the Clippers and all NBA matters, and moving (along with the 29 other league owners), to force a sale of the Clippers by Sterling. You can check out my piece linked above for the full take, but essentially I think Silver's response to this first real leadership test was spot-on, and in particular, because it set a decisive tone for his leadership style and approach moving forward.

    Fast forward to last week, and we have another pretty high profile leadership (this one mixed in with some tasty talent management) situation from the world of sports - specifically from the United States Men's National Soccer team. In case you missed it, US coach Juergen Klinsmann made news when he dropped US soccer star (and the National team's all time leading scorer), Landon Donovan from the squad of 23 players that will compete in the upcoming World Cup. While Silver's handling of the Sterling mess has been universally lauded and wildly popular, Klinsmann's decision to essentially fire Donovan from the National team has been met with plenty of second-guessing, and is certainly not popular with several of the remaining (and influential) team members. This was a tough managerial decision around talent, and since my job as part of the 8 Man Rotation crew is to help you break down the connections between sports and your job as an HR/talent pro, here are three reasons I can think of why it makes sense for a new leader to make a strategic fire a la Klinsmann:

    1. The obvious one - dropping a veteran, established talent that seemed 'safe' by just about every stretch of the imagination signals out to the rest of the team (sports or otherwise), that the new leader is really in charge, and more importantly, has the security and management support to make tough decisions. Much speculation about Klinsmann's decision to drop Donovan from the World Cup squad was that the coach wanted to use that spot to give a younger, less experienced player a great developmental opportunity for what seems to be Klinsmann's true goal - mounting a serious challenge in the next World Cup in 2018, a competition which the then 36 year old Donovan would certainly not factor.  

    2. A strategic fire can often shake up a content workplace. The US team has been sort of running in place for the last few World Cup cycles. Sure, they have the occasional moments of success and games that make you think they are finally going to be serious contenders at elite competitions. But then they inexplicably fall to some lesser opponents, fail to seriously compete when facing the world's top teams, and generally seem comfortable just qualifying for the World Cup. Klinsmann does not want to reward that kind of status quo, that decade of mediocrity. The remaining players simply need to play better, or Klinsmann will find replacements. Dropping a former star, who still may be able to contribute, signals that performance standards across the entire organization are going up. The other players might think, "Crap, if he was willing to cut Landon, he definitely will drop me if I don't start scoring goals."

    3. The leader takes ownership of overall team results - especially if the results are poor. The primary reason in sports that coaches like to 'play it safe' and 'go by the book' is that they don't want to accept blame for failure, since they 'went by the book', whether it is in player selection or game strategy and tactics. In American football, the vast majority of coaches will punt the ball away on 4th down when the data clearly show that running an offensive play to try and keep possession of the ball is almost always the better statistical move. But if the coach plays it safe, and the team loses, he/she can usually shift blame to the players or some other external circumstance. Make 'risky' decisions like unexpectedly cutting a star player like Donovan and have them not pan out? All the blame, or at least a large part of the blame, will land on Klinsmann's shoulders. And I think that is a good thing, more coaches/leaders need to be willing to claim responsibility for failure (and accept the consequences too).

    Ok, that's it - I'm out.

    Go USA. Try not to lose to any country with less than 1% of our population this time.


    The Silver Hammer: Three reasons to come down hard on your first big leadership test

    I probably don't need to re-hash the Donald Sterling v. the NBA (and the World) narrative once again for you, by now you have heard the important details of the story. But just to re-set, and set up this piece, you need to know two things.

    1. Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers was just suspended from the NBA for life for making racist statements, fined $2.5M, and is going to be forced by the other 29 NBA team owners to sell the Clippers.

    2. This disciplinary judgement was handed down by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, whose name may not be terribly familiar to you, and is not that familiar to even many NBA fans. Silver just became the Commissioner about three months ago when he succeeded former commissioner and NBA legend David Stern, who had a 30-year reign leading the NBA. Stern in many ways became synonymous with the modern NBA, and while not perfect, will probably be remembered by history as one of the two or three greatest sports executives of his time.

    Adam Silver, the new person in charge, had to not only deal with the Donald Sterling situation, he also had the added challenge of this very public and high-profile problem being the first true test of his leadership. And in this test, Silver elected to mete out the harshest and most significant punishment that was possible according to the NBA constitution. Silver could have suspended Sterling for a fixed time period, like one year, could have fined him less than the max of $2.5M, and did not have to elect to push for Sterling's removal as an owner. But instead Silver went heavy, and in his first leadership test, (at least one that involved a disciplinary decision), he made a  pretty bold statement.

    That statement was essentially, "There's a new sheriff in town."

    Here are three reasons I can think of why it makes sense for a new leader to come down super heavy in their first big leadership spot:

    1. Old-school territory marking - A new leader, especially one succeeding a highly successful and influential predecessor, has to make sure the rest of the team knows who is running the ship now. One of the best ways to send that message is with really bold, decisive actions that help to instill confidence in the team. I have read lots of accounts of the NBA/Silver decision, and not once have I read "What would David Stern have done?" 

    2. If the decision is a "Should he/she stay or go?" one, you should almost always pick 'Go' - One of the biggest challenges for the new leader is evaluating the team around them. And it is usually obvious who needs to go, and most of the time the leader will know it in their gut but don’t do anything because they don't want to shake things up too soon.  It’s hard to face that there is some house cleaning that needs to be done before the new leader and team can move forward. Or they might think that with a new approach or style that the person can be coached. This almost never works out. A new leader is better off cutting bait nine times out of ten. These kinds of tough decisions can also open up opportunities for other members of the team who may have been languishing under the former regime, feeling stuck or blocked by folks that needed to be (gently) moved along.

    3. It's easier to lighten up later, than it is to get tougher - Did you ever have a teacher or coach or manager or even one of your parents that was kind of easy-going and took a laissez-faire kind of approach? The type of leader that generally liked to keep their hands clean, avoided most unpleasant confrontations, and tried to guide you more so than lead you? But later when there arose some kind of situation or screw-up where the leader really had to get tough, crack the whip, bang the hammer, (you get the idea), no one really took them seriously since they were always more of a friend rather than an authority figure? The point being it is almost impossible to pivot from 'nice-guy' to 'tough guy' once your reputation as a nice guy is established. It is much, much easier to ease off a little bit over time, once the team sees you as someone that is not afraid to make tough, sometimes unpopular decisions. Good luck trying to go the other way.

    What do you think, about Silver's decision here and about how new leaders stake out their position in general?

    Chalk up another 8 Man Rotation post for me, Professor Stollak. 


    Be proud of where you work: Talking points from the NSA

    An internal NSA memo leaked over the weekend, one where the good folks at the National Security Agency provide some tips for their staff to take home and use over the recent Thanksgiving holiday in case they were confronted with a drunk Uncle or angry Cousin who might not be totally pleased with having a member of the family a part of cyber spying, stealing personal information, or whatever else the NSA can be accused of carrying out.

    The 5-point document (with supporting examples) can be found here, and if you can overlook the source, history, context, etc., it actually provides a really useful outline of what employees can do to carry the brand message out into their personal lives.

    Here are the 5 talking points about the NSA that the agency wanted, or at least advised, it's staff to share while sitting around the holiday table, with some comments from me about how they might be more generally applicable to any organization.

    1. NSA's mission is of great value to the nation.

    Applicability for you?

    Probably some. Obvious if you work for a children's hospital or for Waste Management. Maybe less relevant if you are in some kind of management consulting group or work for one of the local car dealerships. In those cases you want to find someone (other than the greedy owner of the company) that benefits from the existence of your organization to speak up. There must be somebody, right?

    2. NSA performs its mission the right way.

    Take a page from the NSA, (as well as the example set by the local personal injury attorneys in your market), and stress it is not just what you do, but someone you do that thing with more integrity than the other guys that do that exact same thing as you. Don't worry about proving it, it is pretty much impossible for anyone to dispute your claim tom the moral high ground.

    3. NSA performs its mission exceptionally well.

    Probably the weakest of the talking points to rally behind. But I suppose in your context the fact that you are still (for the moment anyway), an ongoing concern that is employing people must mean you are doing something well. Don't grab for too much else here.

    4. The people of NSA are loyal Americans with expert skills.

    Drop the nationalistic bit if that makes sense for you, and go for the standard and universal 'We only have the best of the best here at ACME' take. We all know that to be the case. Everyone only employs top talent, 'A' players, etc. So what if it is not true. Unless you work for Yahoo, apparently.

    5. NSA is committed to increased transparency and public dialog.

    Your company has an official corporate Twitter account, right? And probably a Facebook page too. And whatever other associated social outposts that the last batch of summer interns set up for you. Forget that the last post was some inane blather last week about Black Friday, the fact remains that you are an open and transparent organization. And you will prove it the first time someone, anyone tweets at you or leaves a comment on your corporate blog.

    And there it is. The much-maligned and reviled NSA has just handed you the recipe for indoctrinating helping your teams share the good news about the work you are doing there at the Widget factory.

    Think of it this way, how hard can rallying the staff and goosing morale be if even the NSA thinks it can  do it?


    What if we had fewer managers?

    For a few minutes yesterday I dropped in on the always interesting #Nextchat on Twitter which was on the always popular HR and Talent topic of employee engagement. In the discussion most of the comments and observations around the topic of engagement were what we have come to expect, (and know to be true). Nevertheless, there were some excellent insights shared by many of the participants.

    But you know the story around engagement, right?

    Employee engagement is a reflection of the 'extra effort' people choose to make or not make, bad company culture drives much of the measured low levels of positive engagement, and most interesting to me, that managers are the prime drivers or enablers of engagement in the organization.

    If the organization has bad managers, or not enough good managers and then you will have an engagement problem, (and a retention problem and a recruiting problem, and on and on). Managers need to be engaged themselves in order to have a better chance at rank-and-file employee engagement. Managers are often the barrier to engagement, as they simply don't know or realize the importance of engagement in a broader organizational context. Managers are the devil's spawn and their mere presence haunts the hallways of the company headquarters.

    Ok, that last comment was not really stated, but you get the idea. The manager as the key to engagement, (and lots of other really important talent management practices), was beat to death.

    After watching the discussion carry on in that manner for a bit, I finally (at least to me), offered the only suggestion that might actually have an immediate impact, (not necessarily a positive impact, I admit).

    Here it is:




    I was kind of being a wise guy but not totally.

    If (bad) managers are truly such an important driver of engagement and talent management, and we have known this for ages, and at least according to the consistently poor engagement levels we see in many if not most businesses we are doing a terrible job of selecting and coaching these managers, then wouldn't it make sense to simply have far fewer of them?

    Find the 20 or 30 percent of the managers that actually are really good at engaging teams, guiding career development, challenging employees to reach their potential, etc. and just let them manage everyone.  Take the rest of the managers that aren't good at those things and either let them focus on the actual work they are good at or let them move on.  Or make them sort of 'technical' managers that don't have the messy 'people' manager side of things and can focus on the work, sort of like how football teams have offensive and defensive coordinators that set strategy and tactics but don't really have to deal with the players on an individual and personal level.

    I don't know, it just seems like after years of lamenting about the shortcomings, disinterest, and general imperfections of 'managers'  that at least some of the problems could be solved by having fewer of them.

    What do you think?


    ECON 101: Comparative Advantage: Or, why it still can be ok to be worse at everything

    I was talking with a friend recently, the kind of person who is just good (and often really darn good), at just about everything. Successful in their career, well-respected in their industry, good-looking, model family life, knows how to cook/fix/find just about anything.... you get the idea.

    We probably all have a friend or colleague that fits that description, maybe even going back to childhood perhaps where the memory of our high school nemesis that was just a little better than us at sports and in class and with the ladies (or guys), always just ticked us off to no end.

    No matter what the activity or subject or context, this person was just better.  At everything. And it can easily be pretty annoying.David Ricardo - 'He amassed a considerable personal fortune'

    Until you recall (or learn for the first time as in the case of the high school me), the Law of Comparative Advantage. Let's do a quick ECON 101 review:

    In economics, comparative advantage refers to the ability of a party to produce a particular good or service at a lower marginal and opportunity cost over another. Even if one country is more efficient in the production of all goods (absolute advantage in all goods) than the other, both countries will still gain by trading with each other, as long as they have different relative efficiencies.

    The idea of comparative advantage has been first mentioned in Adam Smith's Book The Wealth of Nations: "If a foreign country can supply us with a commodity cheaper than we ourselves can make it, better buy it of them with some part of the produce of our own industry, employed in a way in which we have some advantage." But the law of comparative advantages has been formulated by David Ricardo who investigated in detail advantages and alternative or relative opportunity in his 1817 book On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation in an example involving England and Portugal. In Portugal it is possible to produce both wine and cloth with less labor than it would take to produce the same quantities in England. However the relative costs of producing those two goods are different in the two countries. In England it is very hard to produce wine, and only moderately difficult to produce cloth. In Portugal both are easy to produce.

    Therefore while it is cheaper to produce cloth in Portugal than England, it is cheaper still for Portugal to produce excess wine, and trade that for English cloth. Conversely England benefits from this trade because its cost for producing cloth has not changed but it can now get wine at a lower price, closer to the cost of cloth. The conclusion drawn is that each country can gain by specializing in the good where it has comparative advantage, and trading that good for the other. 

    This Business Insider piece from the weekend spurred me to think about Comparative Advantage (and what can happen when really powerful and attractive companies like Google are powerful enough to essentially ignore the 'law' in many respects), a look at some of the worst aspects for working for such a desirable employer.

    Among the chief complaints raised about life at Google was that their hiring standards are so high and that fact, combined with seemingly everyone wanting to work for them, that many, many sort of mundane positions are staffed with over qualified, exceptional, and often wasted talents. 

    Here is an example of how that plays out:

    There are students from top 10 colleges who are providing tech support for Google's ads products, or manually taking down flagged content from YouTube, or writing basic code to A|B test the color of a button on a site."

    Adam Smith's law of Comparative Advantage, if Google cared about such things, would probably tell them that it was relatively inefficient for them to try to be the best at everything, that more or less, they should focus on those elements where their advantage in the market (for talent in this case), was the greatest compared to their competition, and let the wanna-bees fight it out over the rest.

    But I don't really care about Google, I care about you, (I am a giver that way). We both know what it's like having to deal with that person who is just better at everything than we are.

    It is tiring.

    It is frustrating.

    And often, we will simply give up and move on to something else when we really should have stuck with what we loved.

    Everything is comparative. If you get a job at Google you are probably going to feel dumb much more often than you are accustomed to feeling.

    Note: I had a recent piece over on Fistful of Talent that looks at this topic a little more as well. 

    Have a great week!