Friday, June 29, 2007

The Effectiveness of Bully Bosses

Chances are that you have no problem thinking of multiple bosses who are full-out bullies. They are the bosses who yell at people in meetings, threaten to fire people, and use the crack of a whip to get people to work harder, faster and longer. Odds are good that you hate one of the bosses in your own management chain.

The downsides of a bully boss seem obvious: employees leave the company, they are less engaged with the company's success, and they are less willing to put in extra effort. Nevertheless, the problem persists. The reason appears to be that bully bosses are effective.

First, senior leaders promote people whom they see as dynamic and aggressive at delivering. Our culture puts value on the hard-driving leader who gets the impossible job done. Second, the bullying boss really does get people to work harder, faster and longer. Fear gets results. If you look at the heads of many successful companies, you see plenty of tyrants.

All this is true with a short-term focus. Many people will endure a bullying boss so long as the company is growing quickly. As soon as there are better opportunities elsewhere, they will leave as quickly as they can. Finally, consider the impact of bullying even in a growing company. People stop giving the company their all, which reduces the magnitude of success. And, while people may work harder, faster and longer, that doesn't say much of anything about whether they are working better or delivering more value.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Best Leadership Blogs

Blogger Kevin Eikenberry has created a list of top leadership blogs for 2007. He has invited his readers to vote for their favorite by July 6th. Here is his list:

Troy Worman at Orbit Now! has challenged people to extend the list by adding three other good leadership blogs. You can see Troy's additions here. And Phil Gerbyshak at Make It Great! has added his three cents here.

Taking up Troy's challenge, here are three leadership blogs that I would add to the conversation:

Thanks for the challenge, Troy.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Convergence of Disney and Leadership

People who know me know I have a huge interest in all things Disney. More than just the magic, I have been intrigued by Disney's commitment to customer satisfaction. I think this started with my first trip to Disneyland as a kid with my mom and sister.

The trip was a big financial stretch for us. We went to lunch in a cafeteria on Main Street. After we paid, my sister dropped our tray of food. Before my mom could panic, one cast member was cleaning up the mess and another was refilling a new tray for us. That probably made the difference for us not having to leave the park for a cheaper meal. It certainly helped build a set of life-long Disney fans.

Disney's approach was both excellent customer service and made good long-term business sense. Although it may not have passed the scrutiny of an accountant, it fit with the vision that Walt had for the Disney experience.

Today at Re-Imagineering®, there is a post about Managing the Creative Factory at Disney. It gives a good view of the impact of changing leadership approaches over time there. We can find good leadership lessons in all of our areas of interest.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Use the Right Process for the Right Job

I'm in the middle of reading Johanna Rothman's new project management book, Manage It!. Johanna presents the variety of project development processes from waterfall to agile. She gives some detail on which process works well in different circumstances. I have six different saws in my garage. Each works best on different projects. I guess I could cut lumber with my hacksaw, but that wouldn't work well. I could also decide to only work on projects that I can do with my jigsaw, but that's not realistic either. I'll keep all six of my saws. Process is like my saws. You need to use the process that works for the project you are working on. Using the wrong process is like trying to cut pipe with a handsaw.

Being a Good Follower

Think about what happens in a meeting when the leader asks everyone to stand up. People hesitate. They try to figure out if the leader really means it. A group decision gets made about whether they will collectively follow the leader's directions. Some people, perhaps most people, will stay seated and try to wait it out. Even when most of the room stands, a few hold-outs will stay seated trying to look too-cool-for-this.

Now think about the value of two potential outcomes. In one, the leader successfully gets everyone to stand. In the other, the room rebels and stays seated. In most situations, everyone in the room gets more value if the leader is successful. When the leader fails, their plan is thrown off, the group falters, perhaps the whole purpose of the gathering is lost. No matter how silly the leader's gimmick seems, it is usually in the best interest of the group to follow it.

Our role as practical leaders is to help the group succeed. As members of the audience, we participate in the group decision to follow or not. We can influence that group decision by standing without hesitation. That gives others permission to follow as well. We can be good leaders by being good followers.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Defining a Corporate Culture

Last week I wrote about Michael Duffy's thoughts on the importance of corporate culture. I got some feedback that I should write more about how to define a corporate culture. If you don't understand the cultural dimensions, you can't effectively instill a culture.

Following are a few of the dimensions of culture. While some of these feel black-or-white, you can reasonably fall anywhere along each axis. The right answer for each depends on your company, the industry, and your management styles.

Technology/Business/Customers: Companies tend to identify themselves as primarily focused on one of these three things. You can see it in their advertising and mission statements. Technology-focused cultures say, "We make the world's greatest..." Business-focused cultures say, "We deliver shareholder value by..." Customer-focused cultures say, "We make customers successful by..." Determine what you lead with.

Shareholders/Customers/Employees: Companies tend to value one of these three groups as the primary reason they are in business. It is their primary reason for being. Naturally, all three matter, but when there are trade-offs to make, you should think about which group you naturally favor.

Playfulness: Lots of companies like to say, "We work hard and we play hard." Consider if you want group socializing and playfulness to be part of your company culture. Many people consider this as the definition of a strong culture. Be careful, though, many people are repelled by play at work. They would just as soon spend their social time elsewhere.

Family Friendliness: This manifests in lots of ways, not just hours worked. Will managers call people on weekends? Will they set meetings in the evening? Will they ask about family conflicts before making travel commitments for employees?

Time Spent at Work: Most companies have expectations of the hours that employees will be at work. In some companies if you are not at the office before 8:00 or after 7:00 you are not seen as committed. Technology companies often have core hours, where everyone must be in the office between 10 and 4. I was once in a company where it was bad form to not "look like" you worked over the weekend. In most companies this is not a question of the number of hours worked. I've notice that when the culture expects long hours of attendance, they often get short hours of actual work. Employees figure they are at work so long, they don't need to work as hard during all those hours. They also take longer lunches, run more errands and do more chatting during the day.

Frills: Frills can include everything including private offices, blackberries, fitness centers, cookies at 4:00, free catered lunches, pinball machines, and company cars. These extras can build a sense of specialness that keeps people loyal to the company. Also consider the impact on culture when these frills are only available to certain groups.

Theory X/Theory Y: These are management models of how people are motivated. In Theory X, managers believe people are inherently lazy and need to be closely led and supervised. This is sometimes called a "hard" culture. In Theory Y, managers believe people are motivated toward success and want to help the company succeed. In this "soft" culture, managers need to set up the environment to enable accountability and success.

Lightly Staffed/Heavily Staffed: In a lightly staffed culture, a company believes that no matter the challenge, the team is up to tackling it. They over-commit, work to near burn-out and take pride in the successes. In a heavily staffed culture, the company values having the right people, particularly specialists, to do the jobs that the process demands. These cultures often are more family friendly and put a high value on predictability.

Hierarchical/Flat: This choice says something about the value the company puts on rank, power and politics. It also provides a way to think about delegating authority effectively. Flat organizations can sometimes be a technique leaders use to maintain control and avoid delegation.

Decision Making Model: Some cultures put value on individuals making decision within the scope of their position. Individuals get input from other people, but ultimately are accountable for their own choices. Other cultures value decision making by teams, favoring consensus in the team over individual authority. Still other cultures rely on well-defined decision making processes and sign-offs. The trade-offs are around risk tolerance, speed, individual growth and empowerment.

Honesty/Integrity/Respect: Everyone would claim that these traits are part of their culture. But, companies often behave counter to these values. If you treat you employees dishonestly, they will do the same to your customers. If you tolerate rudeness in the workplace, you get more rudeness in the workplace. The culture will be what you model. Be explicit about these basic human values.

The first step to instilling cultural values is to be explicit about what your expectations are. Spend time thinking through what your values are in these dimensions. Then spend time thinking about the other dimensions you value. Finally, come back and add other value dimensions to the comments so we can all learn together.

In a future post I'll write about implementing your cultural values. Here is a preview: It's a twofold problem. Not only do you have to instill the cultural values, you have to model behavior consistent with those values.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Corporate Capacity for Risk Taking

Here's one more interesting tidbit from the MIT Enterprise Forum. Panelist George Bell, Special Venture Partner at General Catalyst Partners, shared this:

The capacity of a large company to say "no" is almost infinite. If you are in a little company, you almost always have an advantage because you have the capacity for risk-taking.

The Importance of Corporate Culture

Last night I attended the MIT Enterprise Forum panel session "People, Money, Markets and Big Ideas." Each of four panelists shared important lessons learned in their careers, and more than a few interesting stories. If you haven't been to a Forum event, I highly recommend them.

One of the panelists was Michael Duffy, CEO of OpenPages. Michael shared his lesson learned on the importance of setting a corporate culture right away. He explained his belief that it is important to "capture people's hearts." For the practical leaders out there, he outlined three key steps to setting and maintaining a corporate culture:

  • Write down the culture you want and share it.
  • Put a rewards system in place that reinforces the cultural values.
  • Hold orientations for all new employees to share that culture.

By the way, another panelist was Monster founder Jeff Taylor. He shared the nugget that the most active time on Monster is Mondays at 2:00. I'll let you connect the dots.