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    Entries in Organization (61)

    Monday
    Apr172017

    People, not projects

    In between games of the NBA playoffs this weekend and as I was digging through a couple of weeks of 'saved' items in my Feed reader, (anyone still using feed readers?), I came across a link to a Quora thread aiming to address the question 'What made Xerox PARC, (the legendary reseearch shop in Palo Alto), so special?'

    One of the responses, from Alan Kay, offered eight reasons why PARC (and the earlier ARPA) were so effective, and in reading Kay's observations, I thought the first five were pretty applicable to just about any organization that is faced with the need to remain, (or become) innovative and dynamic.

    The first five points are below, I think they pretty much are self-explanatory, so I will just repeat them here and send you on your way on a sunny Monday:

    There was a vision: “The destiny of computers is to become interactive intellectual amplifiers for everyone in the world pervasively networked worldwide”.

    A few principles:

    1. Visions not goals
    2. Fund people not projects — the scientists find the problems not the funders. So, for many reasons, you have to have the best researchers.
    3. Problem Finding — not just Problem Solving
    4. Milestones not deadlines
    5. It’s “baseball” not “golf” — batting .350 is very good in a high aspiration high risk area. Not getting a hit is not failure but the overhead for getting hits. (As in baseball, an “error” is failing to pull off something that is technically feasible.)

    Really solid stuff, I think.

    Start with a vision, but one that is short, cogent, and easily rallied around by the right people. Then set about giving those right people support and space to execute on that vision. And allow 'misses' from time to time, after all, even the best baseball players fail more than 60% of the time.

    Easy, right?

    But much easier said than done. Probably why we still talk about legendary places like PARC all these years later. They are the unicorn stories we keep having to cling to.

    That's it, I'm out. Have a great week!

    Tuesday
    Mar072017

    LEARN A NEW WORD: 'Never Events'

    You've probably heard stories over the years of some crazy, unbelievable, and even egregious mistakes made by medical professionals from time to time - things like operating on the 'wrong' body part, leaving a piece of surgical equipment inside the patient, or administering an incorrect medication or dosage that results in really, really bad outcomes. These kinds of mistakes happen, hopefully not too much, but they do, and health care providers have, over time, implemented structural and process changes to try and keep them from re-occurring.

    So while you have probably heard about these kinds of mistakes, what you may not know is that in the medical field these kind of mistakes have a definitional term. They are called 'Never events' - "Adverse events that that are serious, largely preventable, and of concern to both the public and health care providers for the purpose of public accountability".

    Naming and categorizing these events into the 'never events' bucket has helped health care providers better understand the problems, as well as devise interventions to (hopefully), prevent them from happening in the future. Said differently, once a 'never event' is detected, a different, more rigorous, and more repeatable set of protocols kick in. 

    I confess to have never, (no pun intended), heard of the term 'never events' until I read this piece from Slate that is advocating for local law enforcement agencies to adopt the 'never event' approach to solving some of their most challenging problems. And while I don't know anything about law enforcement, or health care, ( or much of anything else really), I kind of like the notion of adapting the approach that the medical field is taking towards these preventable events to other fields.

    Would having a list of 'never events' in your business processes, or perhaps stated as the list of behaviors that are so egregious that they simply will not be tolerated, be of benefit beyond literal 'life and death' professions like health care and law enforcement?

    I think it would be an interesting exercise to determine what some of the 'never events' might be in any context, if only to think about ways to create structure/environment and design processes to ensure these never events either don't happen at all, or at least can be reduced significantly. Even in an individual, personal context, this might have value.

    I will start.

    One of my 'never events' could be to have an unreturned or unacknowledged business email with 24hrs of receipt, (I know I am already in trouble).

    How might I change my structure and process to ensure this 'never event' does not occur?

    I could put on a permanent email auto-responder stating my commitment to answer within 24hrs, setting a clear expectation for myself and the email sender. I also could block times on my calendar each day to dedicate to processing email. And finally, if it gets really bad, I could hire an assistant to triage my email, respond on my behalf as needed, and only forward to me the most important emails, the ones that truly require rapid response.

    I am going to think about those things this week. I encourage you to think about your own 'never events' too - in your business, your HR department, and even personally. 

    Some things should never, ever happen. Until we recognize which ones, it is hard to stop them from happening again and again.

    Wednesday
    Feb012017

    CHART OF THE DAY: Piles and piles of cash

    Lots of noise and stress lately that comes from a political transition and in this case a transition to a philosophy that is a dramatic departure from at least the last eight years, (if not longer). I did my one and only (I promise) take on the most controversial happenings (so far), on Monday, but I wanted to hit one more quasi-political issue, but also one that impacts work, business, and potentially jobs.

    Namely, the staggering amounts of cash that many of the largest American firms are holding, and in particular, the increasing levels that these firms have 'parked' in overseas accounts (ostensibly to avoid paying US corporation income tax on the funds). 

    Here's a reasonably recent chart (from last September) showing some of the larger companies and overseas cash piles, (courtesy of CNBC), then some comments for me after the data.

     Three quick takes on this stockpile of overseas cash (and large cash reserves by corporations in general)

    1. American companies are holding about $2.5 Trillion (that is with a 'T') in overseas cash, which is more that 10% of the US annual GDP. Tack on the close to $2.0 Trillion, (that is another 'T'), in cash that US companies are holding domestically, you have about $4.5T in cash that is essentially doing nothing to build business, increase investment, hire more people, etc. Lots and lots of arguments for why this is the case, (not all of them political in nature), but I think we all can agree that this tremendous cash hoard represents untapped potential for growth.

    2. The main reason that American companies cite for parking so much cash overseas is the relatively high US corporate tax rate of 35%. It is by most analyses the highest corporate rate among developed economies. So when you combine a high tax rate, an additional surplus of domestic cash for many large companies, and still low by historical standards borrowing costs, many of the largest US companies are content to sit and wait and stare at their cash piles.

    3. Finally, many economists predict that a lowering of tax rates and a surge in repatriation of corporations overseas cash probably would not spur the kind of economic stimulus that many expect. Many of these firms would use substantial portions of this cash on stock buyback programs and increases in their dividend rate. These actions primarily benefit shareholders rather than the broader economy. Besides, some argue, if these companies had better ideas to invest this cash (new facilities, R&D, hiring more people, etc.), they would just do that.

    Sure, I know that most organizations, particularly smaller ones, would love to have the problem of not being able to figure out what to do with all their excess cash laying around. But all this cash is certainly not a great sign for longer term economic growth, increased innovation, and enhanced employment opportunities.

    It is going to be interesting, if a little wonky, to keep an eye on corporate tax rates, repatriation deals, and just what ends up happening to these Trillions in the next few years. I suspect that whatever happens, it will have a pretty significant impact on US GDP, growth, employment, and more.

    Happy February.

    Monday
    Jan302017

    On corporate reactions to current events

    I don't think I need to recap the series of political and policy events here in the USA over the last few days that have seemingly set thousands if not millions of folks (and almost EVERYONE) on Twitter afire.

    In the aftermath of a contested, contentious election, the first days of the administration have been, depending on your point of view, either a colossal and dangerous train wreck, or simply the expected result and consequences from a series of campaign promises/threats that have been acted upon.

    Since it doesn't matter to you what I think about these actions, and no matter what I think I would not change anyone's mind anyway (and I am not really interested in changing your mind. Make up your own mind), I'd rather make a couple of comments on what I have seen from the many 'corporate' responses to the events of the last few days.

    From what I can observe, there have been three major categories of 'corporate' response, (or non-response), to the recent Executive Orders from the new President.

    1. 'We' (meaning the corporation, even though I would suspect that the individual CEOs that are penning these responses are not really able to consult or poll all of their employees in just a day or two), are 100% in opposition to these policies, and we are actively working to see them overturned or ended. We are donating to the ACLU, providing free services to those affected (see Airbnb), and want everyone to know that we are NOT COOL with this. This has been the response from many high-profile companies, many of them from the tech space.

    2 'We' (again the corporation), have a culture of openness, inclusiveness, tolerance and fair treatment towards all. We support all our employees regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc.. We will extend direct services to our employees who may be impacted by these policy changes. This is sort of a toned down version of response 1, focusing more on their internal people and their families. It could be seen (and has been by some), as the more pragmatic CEO/corporate response, particularly for organizations that have business and dealings with the various arms of the Federal government. See Elon Musk/Tesla for a decent example of this approach.

    3. Nothing publicly announced at all. This is actually the majority of organizations I would think. For every big tech company CEO who has issued a statement or a Tweetstorm condemning the recent events and policy changes, there are 100 if not more organizations who are not commenting on it at all, or at least not publicly. There a a million reasons to do/say nothing publicly as a CEO/organization, and saying nothing does not mean necessarily that the CEO/organization does not object or rebuke these new policies.

    Wait, I just thought of a potential 4th response. The one where the CEO comes out openly and aggressively in support of the recent Executive Orders on immigration, placing him or herself in line with the new President an Administration. Note, a quick scan of headlines while drafting this post has resulted in zero examples of this actually happening. Doesn't mean it hasn't, but I have yet to find any CEO/organization, (at least a national brand), coming out in support of these policies.

    I know what you might be saying, that this particular policy change and set of orders are SO egregious, so un-American, so divisive that there is no way, no person, no CEO, no organization could support them. In fact, they are such an affront to what we like to think makes America a great country that it really is not controversial at all to come out strongly against them. And you might be right be that.

    Why think about these 'corporate' responses/stances to current event, particularly as and HR/Talent pro?

    Because once the CEO of the organization takes a public stand on issues as divisive as these, it sets down a kind of organizational culture marker that will be just about impossible to ignore or alter in the future. When the CEO comes down hard in opposition (or support) of these kinds of flash point debates, and if he/she commits organizational resources (time, money, products, services), on one side or another, the message gets pretty clear, pretty fast.

    And no matter what side of this (or the next big issue) that the CEO does come down on, (and one last reminder, I am not telling you what I think about this, or what you or your CEO should think), there is almost certainly going to be a cohort of stakeholders, (employees, customers, candidates), that are not going to see eye to eye with your CEO, and by extension, your organization.

    And that might be fine by you, as and HR/Talent leader, to have this element of the organization's DNA and culture laid bare such that employees and candidates that find themselves in stark opposition to the accepted (or at least stated) views will naturally begin to self-select out. They either will resign, will start looking for another job, or decide not to apply in the first place. Either way, you have maybe saved yourself some time in trying to answer the 'Is he/she a 'fit' for the job here' question.

    But that is not really the point, at least not the main point. The word 'divisive' implies that at least some people are on the other side of that divide from you. And I think we have to be very careful that we don't forget that. Because the next 'divisive' issue might not be so clear cut. It might not be so obvious which side your CEO and your organization should be on, (assuming both of those things matter). The next issue might have very cool-headed, rational, logical people on completely opposite sides. And should both of those kinds of people be welcome in your organization?

    Lastly, and this is I swear the end of this (too long) post, you also as an HR leader should probably ask yourself this question:

    Is a person's opinion on the current political debate of the day a valid, predictive, appropriate screening question for employment at your firm and whether they meet the criteria for the ever tricky idea of organizational 'fit'?

    Have a great week. Be good to each other. 

    Friday
    Jan202017

    The Wisdom of Jeff Van Gundy - Part VIII

    Time to revive an old series on the blog, and one of my favorites - on the (continuing) Wisdom of Jeff Van Gundy.

    Since it has been a while, here's a little refresher on just who Jeff Van Gundy is, and why management, leadership, and organizational culture types should listen closely to what JVG has to say about performance, talent, and team dynamics.

    JVG is currently an NBA analyst and announcer for ESPN, previously he was the head coach of my beloved New York Knicks, as well as the Houston Rockets. He was successful as a coach, but may even be a better fit for broadcasting, as he over the years has shown consistent insights into the game, coupled with humor, irreverence, and fun that makes games in which he is broadcasting essential viewing for NBA fans.

    We've covered many of JVG's insights on the blog in the past, (good examples are here and here), and while listening to JVG recently being interviewed on ESPN's (Zach) Lowe Post Podcast, he had this nugget of enlightenment about the importance of conflict amongst team members, and how it is necessary (often), to drive performance improvement.

    Here's the JVG quote, and then a quick comment from me:

    (Some context, Lowe and JVG were discussing if players who are 'bad' or who have abrasive personalities should have that held against them when judging their performance) 

    JVG - To me, it is not about are you 'easy' in the locker room, it's are you right. If you are causing tension for the right reasons at the right times, to help spur your team to confront their issues, and their problems and you're willing to be confronted as well about your own issues and your own problems, then tension is a good thing. 

    This idea that everything should be happy go lucky in a locker room when you are a mediocre team, I disagree with. It's hard to get from mediocrity to average then from average to pretty good and from pretty good to good and then from good to great if there's no conflict. Conflict puts everybody's cards on the table. If you are causing tension for the right reasons at the right times and you are willing to be coached as well and confronted as well then I think tension is a good thing.

    A really interesting, and I think accurate, assessment of how conflict, how an occasional 'difficult' personality type on the team, and the tension and butting of heads that that kind of a person can cause should not be immediately looked at as a negative.

    In NBA basketball, and probably in your organization as well, there are plenty of folks who think their performance and their contribution is perfectly acceptable, and their position on the team is totally secure. They may even be your 'top' performers. But even they, probably, need to be challenged from time to time. Even they need to examine their own performance at least once in a while.

    And in basketball, and again, probably in your shop too, it often takes a gruff, difficult, hard to get along with personality type to force people into that kind of self-examination. And often in basketball, and for the final time, at 'normal' workplaces too, the tendency is to immediately point the finger at Mr. or Ms. 'Difficult' and ostracize them, (or simply get rid of them), for rocking the boat.

    As JVG reminds us, when a team of any kind aspires to do more, to do better, to achieve great things, some conflict along the way is not only inevitable, it is likely essential.

    Think about that the next time you are wondering what to do to make that hard to get along with person who likes to find the issues in what is going on around the office to simply pipe down and get along.

    Maybe they're not actually the problem after all.

    Have a great weekend!