From our series The TakeAway:
CEO Aaron Shapiro of Huge on why it is important to maintain the underdog spirit, even when you’re on top.
From our series The TakeAway:
CEO Aaron Shapiro of Huge on why it is important to maintain the underdog spirit, even when you’re on top.
Fast Company talked to former JC Penney CEO Ron Johnson three months into his new job. What he said then explains why things didn’t work out.
But here are 5 lessons taken away from Johnson’s miscalculations:
What can you learn from Johnson’s JC Penny disaster?
Around this week last year, more than a half-dozen clowns invaded Zynga headquarters in San Francisco, and began terrorizing some of its employees. This wasn’t research for some carnival game the company was working on; no, a herd of clowns—in full makeup, red- and green-haired, the ones who haunt children’s dreams—had swarmed the social-game developer’s offices, and, by some accounts, made employee lives miserable, for days on end.
"He means well, but just doesn’t realize the downstream effects of his decisions."
Another former developer lead agrees with the assessment. “It’s almost a mechanistic thing like, ‘Morale is low, so let’s do something that makes people happy.’
It was very typical of Zynga to address the symptoms rather than the root causes.”
[Illustrations by Joel Arbaje]
Forget The Mission Statement. What’s Your Mission Question?
WARREN BERGER TAPS SOME OF THE MOST POWERFUL CEOS IN THE COUNTRY TO REVEAL THE QUESTIONS THAT WILL KEEP ANY COMPANY ON TRACK.
Most companies, of course, articulate their missions by way of formal “statements.” But often they’re banal pronouncements (We save people money so they can live better. —WalMart) or debatable assertions (Yahoo! is the premier digital media company) that don’t offer much help in trying to gauge whether a company is actually living up to a larger goal or purpose.
Questions, on the other hand, can provide a reality check on whether or not a business is staying true to what it stands for and aims to achieve. So herewith, derived from interviews for my forthcoming book, A More Beautiful Question, are thoughts from a couple of top CEOs (Panera Bread’s Ron Shaich and Patagonia’s Casey Sheahan) and a trio of leading business thinkers/consultants (the Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen, Peer Insight’s Tim Ogilvie, and SY Partners’ Keith Yamashita). The following five “mission questions” are designed to keep a business focused on what matters most.
“Leaders who are detached from the messy process of managing fail. They need to recruit board members, executives, and managers who are doers, not just joiners.”
[Image: Flickr user Misserion]
All of Earth’s successful organisms have thrived without analyzing past crises or trying to predict the next one,”writes Rafe Sagarin in HBR, free of “planning exercises,” “predictive frameworks,” or other buzzy human constructions. “Instead,” he says, “they’ve adapted.”
Consider the octopus: Fleet of tentacle and prismatic of color, the cephalopod is a paragon of flat, startup-style organizational structure:
An octopus … doesn’t order each arm to change a certain color when it needs to hide quickly. Rather, individual skin cells across its body sense and respond to change and give the octopus a collective camouflage.
If we take managers to be the brains of the octopus—a frightening proposition—employees, especially those with a customer touch point, are the spectacular, tentacular, color-shifting cells—a credo of the connected company. When you move with your feelers (or suckers, as is the case with eight-arms over there), you can move much quicker than your centralized competitors: Wikipedia over Brittanica, Google Flu Trends over the CDC.
Ditch Time-Wasting Meetings By Turning Your Office Into An Ant Colony
Scientists have started applying lessons from how ants operate to the corporate world. The result: fewer meetings, more time working, and tasks completed much more quickly.
Ants may free us from that scourge of modern society: the meeting (and maybe even the overbearing boss).
If that sounds like a bit of an exaggeration, know that scientists are serious about recruiting ants to improve human collaboration. Ants pull off remarkable feats of collective cognition and action with no one (not even the queen) running the show. Despite possessing tiny brains, the world’s roughly 11,000 species of ants regularly construct massive colonies, share food, repel intruders, and formulate efficient foraging strategies without the help of a single memo or meeting.
…Scientists at Wayne State University drafted ant-inspired algorithms to find the optimal balance between the time spent on planning and execution when moving a product from concept to market.
You need to find the sweet spot of ‘right amount of communication, at right time,’ and ‘good quality’ to make the whole work together seamlessly,” says Yang by email. Corporate teams waste significant time coordinating among different groups. Managers must always decide (usually sub-optimally) on the tradeoff between time spent in meetings (potentially wasting time) and building something (potentially locking in mistakes).
"Finding the right balance between ‘doing the work’ and ‘communicating with each other’ will achieve wonderful results in job completion time and quality," says Yang. His team’s study, which appears in the International Journal of Production Research, cut project cycle completion times by 17% (158 to 130.5 days), while raising costs by only 8%.
Yang found that it was far more efficient to make normally separate, sequential tasks (such as communication and execution) a parallel process, rather than strive to keep a perfect balance between them. This incurs some extra costs (rework and extra communication), but the system as a whole functions more efficiently.
How will all this fare in the real world? The model was necessarily oversimplified, so there are plenty of ways for it to derail in the wild.
But since humans have only worked in big teams for a few millennia (and have walked the planet for about 200,000 years), ants’ expertise working in tight-knit groups for the last 100 million years might teach us something about collaboration.
You may think an organization with dangerous working conditions, mind-blowing stress, and thankless assignments would have trouble with retention. You would be wrong. Here’s why top secret agents stick around.
A big part of the reason for the impressive retention is because of the CIA’s mission. Case officers believe in what they do, and they like making a difference in the world. The travel opportunities, the glamour of the job, and the excitement also keep people around. But while these factors are not fully replicable in the corporate world, the CIA also utilizes a number of organizational strategies that can certainly be duplicated by private employers to keep talented and in-demand employees happy and productive.
1. Encourage frequent rotation.
High performers hate stagnant environments. Small companies in particular, though, frequently face headroom limitations that make upward mobility difficult.
However, allowing talented employees to move between departments, functions, and locations breeds a multidimensional workforce, and also helps to circulate knowledge and talent throughout your organization. It also keeps things interesting for your employees, who might otherwise begin to feel stuck.
2. Be a résumé builder.
It’s hard to beat “Clandestine Service Officer, Central Intelligence Agency” for an eyebrow-raising résumé entry.
Ironically, the best employers are often those who make it the easiest to find work elsewhere. That’s because the top employers provide the best training opportunities, the most challenging assignments, the most capable mentors, and the most diverse experiences. The better and the more challenging the job, the better it makes as an entry on a résumé.
3. Match the person, not the title, to the task.
Too often, employers recruit bright and talented individuals, but then hesitate to give them any real responsibility until they are more “seasoned” or more senior in the organization. In the meantime, the talented recruits are bored out their minds and likely to spend their ample free time surfing the Internet for a better job.
I’m not advocating that employers put untested new hires in situations where a beginner’s mistake could be costly for the organization. I do, however, believe that employees’ skills and abilities—not their seniority or job title—should determine who is best qualified for the highest-stakes assignments.
When the CIA identifies a high-profile target, careful attention is given to selecting the right officer for the job…It does not always make sense for a 55-year-old English-speaking white male electrical engineer from Wisconsin to try to recruit a twenty something female hijab-wearing Middle Eastern student who speaks only Arabic, for example—even if the 55-year-old is a highly skilled senior officer.
We all know happier companies make more money—and nothing makes for happier employees than learning how to show real gratitude for what they do. Here are some pointers to get you started today.
Goulston lays out three steps for getting good at giving gratitude:
Developing a sense of how to show gratitude is a leadership key—one that can help you (and your employees) reach their potential.
Here’s the full story. Want more?
It’s no secret that those who find themselves tossed into management with little more than a hope and a prayer aren’t ready to fully engage in all that is required of more experienced managers. But there is certainly something about you that indicated you were right for this job. Your job is to build on these strengths, while you try and master the other skills necessary to be a successful leader. Here are seven ways you can shine from day one:
1. Manage those above you. Some of you may be thinking, “How the heck am I going to manage people above me when I haven’t even figured out how to do my job?” Trust me. I can tell you from personal experience that if you don’t begin with managing up, you won’t have to worry about managing down. It is critical to learn how to manage these relationships effectively so that you can secure the resources you need to be successful in any situation. Observe how others successfully gain resources in the organization and follow suit when their approach aligns with your values.
2. Decode your boss. I can’t recall a time when I’ve seen a boss adjust their management style to that of an employee’s. This means you will be the one who will be doing the adjusting. Begin by observing how your manager uses authority, the way she relates to others, and her communication style as a leader. Most bosses typically fall into one of the following categories: dictatorial, laissez-faire, bureaucratic, consultative. Once you determine the type of manager you’ve been handed, you can then study ways to work most effectively with this type of leader.
3. Become a master player of office politics. You are in the game, so deal with it. In every organization, there are unwritten rules. We call this office politics. The sooner you understand these rules, the better. Politics in the workplace isn’t just about manipulation. It’s about using power effectively to get what you need. People who are masters at this game follow unwritten rules that allow them to maneuver swiftly through the organization to obtain scarce resources, approval of prized projects, and promotions. Can you see now why it’s important to pay attention to this?
4. Toot your own horn. For years we’ve been taught that it’s not polite to brag. But if we don’t do so, how will others know about our contributions? I can assure you when companies are putting together lay-off lists they aren’t including those whose contributions are well known throughout the organization. You may be the best singer in the room, but no one will know this if you never open your mouth.
5. Manage performance. No one likes to tell an employee they are not meeting expectations, but how can they improve without feedback? Clearly define your expectations and communicate regularly so employees know exactly where they stand all year long. Provide timely well-thought-out performance reviews that are specific in nature so employees know exactly the type of behavior you would like to see repeated.
6. Be respectful. Be mindful of your tone. It’s easy to bark orders and have others respond out of fear. But eventually you’ll gain a reputation that will be difficult to shake. Effective leaders do not yell at their employees nor do they chew them out in front of customers or other employees. They speak to them like they matter.
7. Hire the best. At first it may be a bit intimidating hiring people who are smarter than you. You will shine the most when those around you are beaming. Hire bright people who will step things up in your workgroup and do whatever it takes to see that they are promoted.
My model of management is the Beatles. The reason I say that is because each of the key people in the Beatles kept the others from going off in the directions of their bad tendencies.
They sort of kept each other in check. And then when they split up, they never did anything as good. It was the chemistry of a small group of people, and that chemistry was greater than the sum of the parts. And so John kept Paul from being a teenybopper and Paul kept John from drifting out into the cosmos, and it was magic. And George, in the end, I think provided a tremendous amount of soul to the group. I don’t know what Ringo did.
That’s the chemistry [at Pixar] between Ed [Catmull] and John [Lasseter] and myself. It’s worked pretty doggone well. We talk about things a lot, and sometimes one of us will want to do something that’s really stupid, or maybe not stupid but … oh, I don’t know … maybe not the wisest thing in the long run for the studio. And, you know, at least one of the other two will say, ‘Hey, you know, I think there’s a better way to do that.’ So we’ll all slow down and think it through, and we usually come up with a much better way.”
Among China’s female workforce in managerial positions, 19% hold the title of CEO, according to the Grant Thornton Business Report released this week. That’s 10% higher than averages in Europe and 14% higher than averages in the United States, according to the report.
Thailand came in first at a whopping 30% of female managers holding the title of CEO and Taiwan came in third at 18%, pointing to a possible emerging trend in Asia for women to more routinely hold the position of CEO. (The exception is Japan, where only 8% of senior managers are women.)
Also of note is that of the companies that employ women in senior positions, 69% work in financial departments, not the so-called softer area of human resources.
"With China becoming an economic powerhouse, its society offers more opportunities for women’s development," said Xu Hua, chairman of Grant Thornton Jingdu Tianhua.
Women in China also make up half of the University student population and 34% of senior management, a 3% increase from two years ago. In the rest of the world, the number of women in senior management positions has actually decreased, from 24% in 2009 to 20%. With Asia increasing in global stature and as the region is increasingly willing to try different approaches in business and innovation, out of sheer competition with the West, the emergence of women may become the new trend.