Week 8: Self-Managed Teams and the Pursuit of Wow!

The fact that this chapter on self-managed teams wrapped up The Pursuit of Wow! reminds me how much the business world has changed since this book was published over 20 years ago. Since that time, self-managed teams have become the norm in so many workplaces. It is interesting to see Peters discuss them as if they are controversial. What he did well with this closing chapter is the same thing he is known for in all of his writing…pointing out simple truths in a simple way that somehow help his readers wake up and see something new.

Peters points out that nearly all employees are well positioned to accept the task of self-management. He indicates that many managers like to think their contribution to the operation of their unit is irreplaceable. In fact, managing a team isn’t terribly different than the way that most people manage the affairs of their lives. Here are a few examples:

  • Long-term View: Most workers understand thinking long-term, as demonstrated by their willingness to make a 30 year investment in the purchase of a home. Show me a manager taking a 30 year view of their department’s operations.
  • Trade-offs: Every family has to make decisions about complex trade-offs all the time when they make personal choices about where their money should be spent. Do you save money for a vacation or invest in buying a more reliable car? Retirement vs. college savings?
  • Eliminate Job Descriptions: Detailed, written guidance does not exist for most of what we encounter every day. We solve problems, make progress, work together, and move forward toward our goals.
  • Manage a Budget: Living within a budget is understood by most responsible adults. Don’t over-complicate this function in a team.
  • Projects: Life is not a series of repetitive tasks, it is closer to a set of projects that we complete concurrently.

And yet, 20+ years later self-managed teams are still a topic of popular business conversation. Take the 2014 article in Inc. magazine titled “Why Self-Managed Teams are the Future of Business” Chuck Blakeman makes a similar case to the one Peters made in 1994. He points to the following lessons:

  • Ownership: The organization that inspires a sense of ownership by its employees has achieved something great where motivation will likely be maximized.
  • Empowerment: When employees are empowered to make decisions, companies tend to grow faster, have less turnover and are more profitable.
  • Simple, Not Easy: Changing from a “boss knows best” model to an “employees know best” model is hard for everyone. We’ve been doing it the other way for a long time.

The case that is being made is essentially the same…giving a group of people clear goals and supporting them as they determine the best way to get there usually results in a better product or service than if the manager tried to drive every detail of the process themselves. Having diverse teams positions them for success, as they can rely on each other to help solve the complex problems they face. Peters would argue that they already have the skills they need to make self-management work.

What do you think? Are you ready to yield your control as manager and trust the collective decision-making of a self-managed team?

 

Reference:

Blakeman, C. (2014, November 25). Why self-managed teams are the future of business. Inc. Retreived online at http://www.inc.com/chuck-blakeman/why-self-managed-teams-are-the-future-of-business.html.

Week 7: Media as Customer and The Pursuit of Wow!

What really stood out to me in this week’s chapters was the recommendations Tom Peters makes about interacting with the media. He shares his lessons from years of ups, downs, quotes and misquotes by the media. He says, “The press has made me. And made me mad as hell.”

  • Tell the whole truth. Most people don’t lie, but too few tell the whole truth. They are reporters, so they will probably learn the rest of the story eventually. Peters suggests acknowledging the good, bad and ugly right up front.
  • It is okay (and preferred) to change your position/story if new information comes to light. When you dig your heels in based on old information it makes it look like you are being untruthful by sticking to your guns.
  • Get over quotes taken out of context. It is going to happen and there isn’t much you can do about it.
  • Return phone calls (and emails) promptly.They are always on a deadline. It is the nature of their business.
  • Treating the media like an ally will aid your success in a crowded, competitive market.
  • Take a long-term view. You want reporters to come back to you again and again, so maintaining a strong relationship will help position you for long-term success.
  • There are jerks in the media, just like there are jerks in every kind of business out there. Don’t assume that one jerk speaks for all media or let one bad experience sour you from actively engaging with reporters.
  • “Don’t take your press releases seriously. The press doesn’t.”
  • Media are looking for a sound bite. Give it to them.
  • Don’t forget about radio. It is still possible to discuss a story for 10 or 15 minutes on radio and a lot of people are still listening. [I’ll throw in podcasts too…since this book is 20+ years old.]

In complement to this, here are a few more tips I found in my research:

Stratcommunications.com (2016) reinforces the importance of developing relationships before you “need” the media. They also wisely suggest being a broken record to ensure your key messages are heard loud and clear. They point out that live interviews are great for maintaining control of messaging. They also suggest making the reporter’s job as easy as possible by providing background information and explanations if your message is complex.

Brad Phillips for Mr. Media Training recommends never going “off the record.” There is a lot of ambiguity as to what “off the record” means, so it will be hard to ensure that you and the reporter are agreeing to the same terms. He also says that you should never say “no comment” because the public hears that as “I’m guilty.” Instead, Phillips suggests making a comment that doesn’t really comment on that issue. Phillips points out that when you are being interviewed you can limit the duration of the interview if you are worried about a fishing expedition. His orientation is definitely more adversarial in orientation that Tom Peters.

My experiences working with the media have all been very positive. I have certainly exercised understanding with regard to their deadlines and tried to respond quickly when asked for an interview or comment. In all, I think my organizations have all benefited from media relations that came from an orientation of appreciation for the exposure.

 

References

Phillips, B. (2011, May 11). Eight ground rules when working with reporters. Retrieved online at http://www.mrmediatraining.com/2011/05/12/8-ground-rules-when-working-with-reporters/

Stratcommunications.com (2016). 7 tips for working with the media. Retrieved online at http://blog.stratcommunications.com/7-tips-for-working-with-the-media/.

 

Make it Better: Product or Service Review

I would appreciate your feedback on the draft of my product/service review. I chose MBA@UNC, the online MBA program offered by UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. This is the “sister” program to the Master of Accounting program that I work with. I’ve worked with a lot of MBA programs over the 15 years I’ve been in graduate education, so I thought taking a closer look at this program would be interested. Thank in advance for your feedback!

Jeremiah

Innovation Leadership Podcast: Five Obstacles to Innovation Leadership

 

Nicole Fallon points to five big obstacles to innovation:

  1. Lengthy projects
  2. Time to innovate
  3. Internal walls
  4. Imbalance between speed and data
  5. Fear of change

This list served as the framework for the discussion in my podcast. You can read the original Business News Daily article here.

Week 6: Breaking the Mold and The Pursuit of Wow!

In an age of commodities, so many companies and their competitors offer products and services that are so similar you frequently cannot tell them apart. Tom Peters points out that when everyone else looks mostly the same, this is an opportunity for some companies to really stand out by doing something different.

Southwest Airlines – Even though this book was written more than 20 years ago, many of the insights that Peters makes about Southwest Airlines continue to be true today. Most of the time, their people are having a good time and giving their customers a memorable travel experience. A good example of this was when I recently flew Southwest and they got to the portion of the safety instructions where they talk about oxygen masks. They say to secure your own mask before assisting others, but this flight attendant said “If you are flying with more than one child, apply the first mask to the one who is most likely to contribute to your retirement account.” This got a healthy chuckle from the crowd during an exercise that most other airlines appear to “get through” as quickly as possible and most travelers are actively ignoring. At Southwest it is more than simply getting from point A to point B, they are providing an experience.

Some great “guru” quotes from this chapter:

Are you regenerating? Are you dealing with new things? When you find yourself in a new environment, do you come up with a fundamentally different approach? That’s the test. When you flunk, you leave.” — Jack Welch, former CEO of GE and Management Guru

“While hard data may inform the intellect, it is largely soft data that generates wisdom.” — Henry Mintzberg, McGill University Professor and Management Guru

“Effective prototyping may be the most valuable core competence and innovative organization can hope to have.”— Michael Schrage, Innovation Guru

“Most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.” — Oscar Wilde, Author, Playwright and Poet

It is freeing to realize that doing things (in life and in business) differently from the way others do them is actually a good thing. To stand out, develop a specialty, fill a unique need in the market, be colorful, leave a lasting impression and take risks is really the best way to approach things (again, in life and business). Breaking the mold means being one-of-a-kind, so celebrate and differentiate on what makes you and what you do/provide for your clients that is unique.

 

Week 5: Differentiation and The Pursuit of Wow!

Tom Peters makes a great case that there is no excuse, no matter what kind of business you’re in, for thinking that what you offer can’t stand out from your competition. This week is all about suggestions for ways a business can reframe the way it thinks about differentiation and many practical ideas that can be implemented to make a business one of a kind. Customers are loyal when they connect with your business, and those connection points are the things you do that surprise, delight, and inspire them.

Customer Service Matters – Reinforcing a culture of excellent customer service pays high dividends to a business. There are several ways this can prove to be a differentiator. First, many companies tolerate mediocrity (and sometimes even unintentionally encourage it). Exceptional customer service is a strategy that almost any company can employ, yet it continues to be an underutilized strategy. Understanding your customers’ wants, needs, and expectations and then exceeding them in as many ways as possible can establish unbreakable customer loyalty.

Your People Matter – Who you hire mediocre people, don’t be surprised when you get mediocre performance. If you hire creative people, they will likely come up with new ways of doing business and see opportunities that others have missed. Reliability is important, but reliability does not have to equal boring. People can be visionary and reliable. Seek out the best people in the business, treat them exceptionally well, and reward them when their performance is outstanding. They will delight customers and drive profit over and over again.

Design Matters – Peters shares a list of 142 different examples of great design. Some of my favorites are:

  • the precisely correct placement of an airbill on a package being shipped to a finicky customer
  • the formal position of chief designer on a corporate organization chart (and the importance that role plays in every decision about a product or service)
  • a 20-year-old sweatshirt that you love
  • the smell of a new baseball
  • the garnish that makes a plate of meat and potatoes an elegant dish
  • stuff you can’t explain but know is there
  • the fact that you sometimes buy books for the cover and wines for the label
  • something that old folks appreciate…and wee kids…and the handicapped
  • a truck stop where you feel at home

Really Listening Matters – Beyond customer service, listening to your clients creates an ongoing dialogue that can yield amazing results. If you hear and address little problems, you can avoid them becoming big problems. Customers often have great ideas…often beyond what you could have imagined yourself. Hearing those outrageous ideas might produce your next breakthrough product. Peters also suggests interviewing 5-15 irritated customers and sharing it with your colleagues and management. It will likely produce a big discussion and inspire some memorable changes for the good.

Everyone Matters – Everyone in the organization should be able to produce a wow list that captures the things they are doing or projects they are working on that produce memorable results. HR might be doing things to improve the lives of employees so they can deliver better service or products for customers. Accounting might be working on ways to make customer payments easier for them. Everyone in the business has a role to play in making it stand out among a crowded field of competitors.

 

 

Interview with Jolie Rollins of CockADoodleMoo Food Truck

 

CockADoodleMoo is a food truck and catering business operated by Jolie and Doug Rollins. They opened their business in 2014 with the decision to “live fearlessly” and follow their dream. Doug has more than 20 years of experience as head chef at country clubs and Jolie has more than 20 years of business experience in the health care industry. Together, they are a dynamic duo that produce some of the best food you’ve ever tasted served with flair and extraordinary customer service.

I visited their truck this week after corresponding with Jolie by email for a couple of weeks. She was extremely generous with her time answering my questions about her business. After my visit, it is clear to me that this is a business that will be successful long after the food truck movement fades away. The food is all fresh and local whenever possible, so the menu adapts based on what is in season and available. The meat all comes from local farmers. It was absolutely delicious!

The great food is only part of the equation that assures the success of this business. Jolie has a larger than life personality, remembers her regulars and their orders and makes their interaction with CockADoodleMoo memorable. Her people skills also pay dividends beyond her customer interactions, as she has developed a large network of businesses that host her truck for lunch and dinner service. She and Doug also have a great network of local farmers that they work with to ensure the quality of their local raw materials is the very best.

I asked Jolie several questions about her decision to open CockADoodleMoo and how it runs. Those questions and answers are below.

 

Why a food truck (as opposed to a stand alone restaurant or some other format)?

Work/Life balance.  When we go out of town, the truck is parked – no worries about leaving someone in charge!  No worries at all!

 

What are the most challenging aspects of owning your own business?

Not enough hours in the day. [It was clear from our conversation that the 5-6 hours they were open every day was preceded by hours of food preparation, shopping from local farmers, as well as calls and emails to make sure their schedule stays fully booked.]

 

What do you enjoy the most (and least) about your work?

Most – customers. Helping them decide, telling them stories, listening to stories and watching them enjoy my husband’s creations.

Least – paying taxes.

 

Was there any specific impetus that inspired you to follow your dream in 2014 to open CockADoodleMoo?

I’d been in healthcare for 18 years and needed a change.  My husband had been a country club chef for 18 years, he needed a change. Why then? A tug that told us if we didn’t at least try, then we would regret it forever.

 

What do you know now that you wish you knew back when you were getting started?  

I wish I was a mechanic!

 

How long did it take before your business was profitable? What strategies did you employ?

We were profitable after 16 months. Knowing when to say no to an ‘opportunity’ is critical to the success of our business.  My dad told me “you will take a lot of business where you think you are making money and you won’t.  Don’t take business knowing you will lose money”.  That stuck with me when someone wanted us to go outside our brand or sell at a lower cost to meet their goals.  It wasn’t easy, but I have learned to say NO!

 

Are there things about a food truck business that are unique and different from other types of businesses?

Our local Food Truck Family is very tight – we call it Co-oper-ti-tion (combine cooperation and competition).  We are all individual businesses with our own brands but collaborate and share information.

 

How do you market and promote your business? 

Shop Local Raleigh and RDUMFA are two organizations that we’ve used to market our business.  We also rely heavily on social media and word of mouth. [I saw this in action when I visited, as people came up to the truck they mentioned they follow CockADoodleMoo on Facebook and saw they were going to be here.]

 

What advice would you give to someone (like me) who aspires to start a food truck business?

If you love people and hard work then what are you waiting for???!!!

 

Here are a few photos I took when I visited CockADoodleMoo.

 

Week 4: Managing People and the Power of Wow!

Peters references a book by Rosenbluth and Peters called “The Customer Comes Second” (1992) which points out that for customers to come first, employees must come “more first”. It is important that employees feel valued, are treated with respect, and are given the room to develop and thrive. In the knowledge economy, the mantra “Our people are our greatest assets” has to be more than lip service. If employees leave an organization or become disengaged, the loss to profitability is both real and tangible.

Peters suggests a number of ways to build in breaks, both daily and occasional, to refresh employees. One of my favorites are a milk and cookie or coffee break in the afternoons, so everyone gets up from their desks, stops what they were doing, and talks to each other. Other good suggestions include holding meetings outside, taking an afternoon off for a team activity, talent shows, spring cleaning day, and spontaneous bagel or pizza parties. All of these activities get people out of their spaces and routines to have fun and recharge.

Another important aspect of developing a team atmosphere is the size of the group. When the unit is several thousand people large, people will splinter down to smaller groups automatically. By organizing smaller units with distinct missions, people can really bond as teams and feel like they are a part of something that is larger than themselves. The size question also relates to the amount of bureaucracy in the organization. Peters encourages leaders to carefully consider how much administration is really needed to accomplish its goals and consider pushing more of the decision making down to the front line managers.

The “Three Rs for the ’90s” still hold true in 2016:

  • Reputation. You are as good as those who publicly attest to the quality of your work.
  • Resume. You must know and communicate your skills and measurable accomplishments.
  • Rolodex. Professional relationships are more important than ever. Who can you call on when you need something or have a question?

Interviewing is one of the most important skills you will develop as a leader. Peters suggests several lessons from his experience:

  • Spread them out and give yourself enough time to really tune into the person you are interviewing.
  • Find a comfy setting and avoid interviewing people from behind your desk.
  • Small talk helps some people loosen up and connect. If you are good at it, it can be a useful approach.
  • Prepare! Have more questions that you need/want to ask. This makes you feel confident and gives the impression that you are prepared to your interviewee.
  • Expect those you are interviewed to give specific examples. Don’t let them get away with talking in generalities.
  • Take notes immediately after your interviews so you remember your impressions and the details vividly.
  • Practice interviewing with other great interviewers at your company to understand their style and adapt what works for you.

People (individually) matter more today than they ever have in organizations. Creating a culture that reinforces people’s sense of value and contribution to the mission of the organization sets the company up for success. Choosing the right people that fit with the company culture and have the skills and knowledge that you need is one of the most important roles that you have as a leader. Adding the wrong person to your team can have lasting consequences, so choose wisely, train them well, and treat them like the assets they are.

 

Rosenbluth, H. & Peters, D.M. (1992). The customer comes second: And other secrets of exceptional customer service. New York: Morrow, 1992.

Week 3: Power and The Pursuit of Wow!

Tom Peters starts the chapter “Getting Things Done” by exploring the concept of power. I share his understanding that power is a “normal part of everyday life” that is essential to accomplishing goals and achieving success. True, power can have a dirty connotation and often people are uncomfortable leveraging it, but it also has potential to drive serious progress and do a whole lot of good. Peters presents a number of practical (and not at all dirty) ways that we can strategically build power (and a lot of these you’re probably doing already). Below are a few of my favorites:

  1. Write thank you notes. Peters believes this is so important that if you can take writing thank you notes to heart, you can (almost) throw the rest of the book away. This simple expression of genuine gratitude impacts people so positively that you won’t believe the kind of support and loyalty it can encourage.
  2. Recognize people. When someone does a great job, celebrate it. Everyone loves to be recognized.
  3. Gently remind people of your contributions. Peters tells a great story here about a manufacturer who had a long history of on time deliveries. To promote this, they added a performance score to their invoices to (gently) remind customers that they were exceeding expectations by putting the requested delivery date, the actual date, and subtracting them to show how far ahead of schedule the delivery was sent. The results were HUGE.
  4. Give credit to everyone. It costs you nothing and doesn’t diminish your successes in any way to acknowledge when someone else helped you get there.
  5. Show up. Sometimes, being in the right places makes all the difference. If you don’t show up, those opportunities will never happen. In the age of email, people notice when you schedule a meeting in person.
  6. Leaders back their people up. In stressful times, showing up with a pizza or rolling up your sleeves to do some of the grunt work will gain huge loyalty from your team.
  7. People notice the little things. If you go out of your way to address an issue that inconveniences someone, they will never forget it. Removing small hurdles often pays big dividends.
  8. Networking is power. Having and maintaining connections that you can call upon (and they you) when needed will infinitely increase your value to your organization.
  9. Solve problems quickly. Letting a problem remain unaddressed usually makes it worse. Even if it isn’t fun to do, eliminating small problems early means they won’t grow to be big problems later.
  10. Be nice. Don’t underestimate the power associated with being the kind of person that others want to be around.

A lot of this is practical advice, but I think many people don’t make the connections to the accumulation of power. As you become a trusted adviser that people at all levels of your organization recognize and support, it makes good sense that power will follow. This is the kind of power I want, because it is gained doing things that I’m proud to do anyway. In doing so, it can help me achieve organizational goals (and by extension my own).