Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pragmatic Management Advice on Shorter Task Lengths

My friend Johanna Rothman just mailed out the latest issue of her newsletter, The Pragmatic Manager. This issue had good advice about reducing the length of development tasks to what she calls "inch-pebbles."

If you estimate in days, you'll be late by days. If you estimate in weeks, you'll be late by weeks. ... If you estimate in months, you'll be late by months.

This latest issue is not yet posted, but you can subscribe here. They are always worth reading. Older issues are posted here.

I also liked this quote from from Johanna:

The schedule is the one way the project won't work.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Is this Integrity or Fear?

Ester Derby has a post about a senior manager who was unwilling to talk to his VP to modify a commitment. The senior manager committed to deliver a special project, then after evaluating it, recognized that the project didn't make good business sense. The senior manager refused to talk to the VP about changing the commitment, ostensibly as a matter of integrity.

If I were the VP, I would expect the senior manager to give me the new information, so we could make the best decision for the business. I suspect that the senior manager's integrity issue is more a question of fear. Certainly the senior manager's integrity would suffer equally from knowingly making a bad business decision.

Sometimes a leader needs to make the decision to take the personally painful path for the greater good of the team. Integrity demands it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

University of Chicago Study Shows Hard Skills More Successful for CEOs

According to the study cited in this Wall Street Journal article, hard skills have a larger impact on CEO success than soft skills. The study was done by University of Chicago Graduate School of Business professors using data from ghSmart, a management assessment consulting firm. The sample CEOs were from companies in buyout situations. The research doesn't appear to say if the data applies to CEOs at other companies.

These "hard" skills have the largest impact on success of the sampled CEOs:

  • Persistence
  • Attention to detail
  • Efficiency
  • Analytical skills
  • Setting high standards

These "soft" skills have less impact:

  • Strong oral communication
  • Teamwork
  • Flexibility/adaptability
  • Enthusiasm
  • Listening skills

I wasn't able to find the primary research paper on-line. If anyone has a pointer, leave a comment so we can dig into the details.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Opportunity to Connect with Your Team

If you live in the states, the Thanksgiving holiday gives you an opportunity to connect more personally with your team. Holidays like this one give you a safe topic as a personal conversation starter. Show your human side. Ask about the holiday plans of the people on your team. A better connection among the members builds a stronger team.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Corporate Culture Impact on Shopping Experience

My wife and I went shopping today for a larger-ticket item. We did some comparison shopping, and found some huge differences among the stores we went to. Each store had an obvious niche, and an equally distinct atmosphere and customer experience. In my experience, leadership impacts culture; culture impacts the way the staff treats customers, which impacts the customer experience, ultimately impacting sales.

We saw four kinds of stores:

  1. High-end: Top notch prices in an upscale environment
  2. Low-end: Lower prices but an uncomfortable shopping experience
  3. Middle-of-the-road: Acceptably lower prices, but a pleasant shopping environment
  4. Wholesale: Best prices, but like shopping at a deli

In the high-end store, we were met with high schmooze-factor sales techniques. The sales person felt like everyone's definition of a used-car salesman. She cozied up to us obsequiously. She gave us lots of information that sounded useful, but after we had shopped at other stores turned out to be mostly a smoke screen. Their culture appeared to recognize that they wouldn't win on price, so they had to "fool" the customers either by selling the sizzle, or by selling a false relationship. We walked out as quickly as we could, feeling dirtier than when we entered.

In the low-end store, we also had a sense that the product was overpriced for its quality. It felt like the quality of the product was much lower to match the lower price. The niche appeared to be to set an environment that looked low-end, so that customers felt they were getting a bargain. We got lots of useless information about how to compare their product against the competition. Again, it felt like a culture of "fooling" the customers into a sale.

One particularly low-end store had a sign that said, "All sales final." We didn't even stop there.

The middle-of-the-road store was very comfortable, neither showy nor shabby. Our sales person gave us detailed and relevant information about his product. We felt like we got a valuable lesson in what factors impacted quality, and how to value them. He steered us away from the top end, pointing out why it wouldn't matter to us. The prices were only slightly more than the low-end store, but we felt the quality of the product was much higher. The culture of this store appeared to be based on confidence in the product and fairness of the price. This came across as honesty from the salesman and inspired our trust.

We walked into the deli-like wholesale store, where we literally took a number. The place was shabby but crowded with customers who were buying. Their culture appeared to be optimized toward giving the lowest possible price, but everyone was perfectly professional. They cut corners on customer convenience, expecting customers to come in knowledgeable and ready to buy.

How we were treated by the staff impacted on our confidence in buying from each store. In the end, we bought from the wholesale store, but we will likely go back to them and the middle-of-the-road store in the future. We will certainly not go back to the high-end or low-end stores. The key was our perception of honesty in the different stores.

The leader of each company sets the culture and approach. That translates to what is expected from the sales staff and directly to how customers experience the interaction. In my own small sample size, a culture of honesty and integrity translated to a sale and future business.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The LinkedIn Wave as a Harbinger of Attrition

I have been a huge fan of LinkedIn for a number of years. In that time, I've noticed a phenomenon about LinkedIn invitations. Every now and again, someone new joins and invites their friends. This causes a short burst, or wave, of new LinkedIn subscribers and invitations. These waves seem to last about three days.

One of the key reasons people start to use LinkedIn is to beef up their networks to explore a job search. If you see more of these waves in your company, you might start to wonder if people are becoming unhappy enough to look around. These waves could be an early warning sign of future attrition.

I may be starting my own little wave here: If you aren't using LinkedIn already, you should be. It is a great tool even if you aren't looking for a job. Once your network is in place you can see the subscription activity in your network by looking at your home page in the tool.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Make the Goal Clear

This may seem obvious, but I'm going to say it anyway. It should be clear to everyone on your team what the goal of the team is. So my challenge question to you: Is the team goal clear to everyone on your team? Before you say, "of course," how do you know? If I came into your team and asked each member, would they all tell me the same thing?

In the spirit of practical leadership advice: today would be a good day to write down your team's goal. Verify with your team that you have it right and that it is clear. Finally, post it somewhere as a reminder. I bet you find that it's not as obvious as you think it is.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ways to Tell That You Have Lost Your Audience

  • The room has fallen silent - you are getting no feedback
  • You hear pages turning - people are reading the slides
  • People are looking around the room at other people's reactions
  • Everyone has a vacant look on their face - nobody is smiling
  • Lots of people are getting up to "go to the bathroom"

What can you do about it if you notice?

  • Don't panic
  • Be dynamic - move around more
  • Modulate your voice, tone, and pacing more
  • Don't just talk louder - project your voice with confidence
  • Engage the audience by asking them questions
  • Most importantly, figure out what your audience wants to hear and dump the parts that they aren't interested in

Monday, November 12, 2007

Five Leadership Quotes from Napoleon

A leader is a dealer in hope.

Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.

Soldiers generally win battles; generals get credit for them.

In war, three quarters turns on personal character and relations; the balance of manpower and materials counts only for the remaining quarter.

Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Survival of the Most Adaptable

Today at Slow Leadership there is a post about how cleverness and adaptability are more successful traits in a leader than hard-driving toughness.

Species success among birds depends mostly on being clever or adaptable—like starlings, crows, doves and sparrows. Those that need specialized diets and environments, even massive birds of prey, are always vulnerable to extinction.

Give some thought to your company culture and your own approach to leading. Are you able to adapt to changing circumstances, or are you heading toward extinction as your market landscape inevitably changes? The post is worth a read.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Leadership Analogies from Driving

Next in our series of leadership lessons by analogy: What can we learn about leadership from driving? As always, the interpretations are left to you.

  • Driving around can be fun, but it doesn't get you anywhere unless you have a destination.
  • Excessive speeding is very dangerous.
  • So is tailgating.
  • Drive defensively.
  • It helps to have directions, but don't read them while you are driving.
  • It is better to have a navigator.
  • Turn signals let those around you avoid bumping into you.
  • It is better to take the next exit than to swerve across three lanes for the current one.
  • I shouldn't have to mention the guy backing down the exit ramp.