Category Archives: Work

Rules vs. Results

We were all trained as children to “follow the rules.” But should our teachers have taught us how to decide when to break the rules? (Yes.)

Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal spent years studying managers and seeking out the habits and characteristics that separate “purposeful managers” (only 10% of all of them) from the frenzied, dTiger Woodsetached, and procrastinators. Their findings are collected in A Bias For Action (2004).

One of their most interesting insights is that successful managers know when to “break the rules” to reach critical organizational goals.

They write:
“Purposeful managers take an active stance when it comes to formal regulations and informal rules developed through cultural norms, habits, and shared expectations. Not only do they question rules that they deem outdated or inappropriate, but they also break or circumvent the rules when it’s absolutely necessary for achieving their goals.”

Sometimes, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I getting paid to do things the way my boss and her boss would like me to do them, or am I getting paid to give my boss and her boss the results they want to see?” Bruch and Ghoshal’s research reveals that the most successful 10% of managers prioritize results over following protocol.

What rule – either formal or informal – are you letting stand in the way of your optimum performance?

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Are You Measuring The Right Things?

Wrigley’s fenceSeth Godin describes an example today on his blog that shows that “just because you can measure it doesn’t mean it’s important.” It reminded me of a great book about measurements – indeed, one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read.

Have any of you read Michael Lewis’s book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning An Unfair Game? (Even if you couldn’t care less about sports, you’ll enjoy this book.) It’s a fascinating story that provides a perfect example of how “knowing what to measure” can have a dramatic impact on an organization’s results.

A few years ago, the general manager of the Oakland A’s, Billy Beane, set out with some MIT stat geeks to figure out what player statistics correlate most closely to “scoring runs.” What they discovered enabled them to compete on a different level in the game of selecting players. While every other team pursued players with high “batting averages” and “home run totals,” the A’s had figured out that these stats weren’t actually the most important when seeking players who would help you WIN (which is, of course, the ultimate goal).

They learned that “high on-base percentage” and “high slugging percentage” were the statistical qualities that contributed most to winning games — and that many of the players with the best stats in these areas were either overlooked by other teams (who had their eye on the wrong measurements), or undervalued in terms of salary. So, on one of the smallest budgets in all of baseball, the A’s put together a team that competed for the World Championship several years in a row.

How’d they do it? They asked the right questions, did some analysis, and figured out the right things to measure to identify players who could help them achieve their ultimate goal of winning – then they adjusted their game plan accordingly.

What if you could engineer a surge in your results in your own field, similar to the A’s surge in victories, by starting to measure the right things?

Sustaining “Pure” Self-Confidence

My most recent article over at Lifehack.org tells about the “life list” my 7 year-old son has been composing over the last couple of months – on his own. I stumbled across his list about a week ago (modeled after John Goddard’s life list), and it has led me to ponder the question, “What difference do goals make, anyway?”

I recall hearing a terrific quotation from David Allen about goals. He said: “The value of goals is not the future they describe, but the change in perception of reality they foster, and the change in performance they effect right now, inside of you.”

hell freezes over(Re-read that quotation… it’s a great one.)

I love that my son believes that anything he can dream is possible. I love that that’s his reality. (“It’s not over, Daddy,” he says frequently, when watching a sports event whose outcome seems obvious. “Anything can happen.”) His life list reflects his expectation that he will eventually fulfill his loftiest aspirations (whether this is accurate or not is irrelevant) and if David Allen’s quotation is accurate, today and tomorrow he’ll “perform” with the pure self-confidence that fuels all great lives.

My challenge as his parent is this: How can I help him sustain his self-confidence, optimism, and possibility-thinking and carry it into adolescence and adulthood?

(To read my original article, My 7 Year-Old Son’s Life Listclick here.)

Who Are Your Most Beloved Athletes?

Writing abodoug flutieut how great athletes talk to themselves got me thinking about my favorite athletes of all-time. Four of the individuals on my distinguished list rise above the rest because of the place they hold in my heart, and because of the influence they had on me as a teenager and young adult. And, looking at the quartet, I am struck by the similarities between the three and the common characteristics they taught me to admire and emulate. The magic foursome is: Doug Flutie, Larry Bird, Jim Barton, and Nomar Garciaparra.

Doug Flutie. I was sixteen in 1984 when he threw the hail mary pass to Gerard Phelan to lead Boston College to victory over University of Miami. His 21-year pro career was just like his college clarry birdareer: he was smaller than every other NFL quarterback, but he found ways to win, time after time. And he never did it the same way twice – he was the king of improv.

Larry Bird. I was 17 that spring the Celtics beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals (1986). My dad always used to say, “Remember Larry, because you won’t see anyone like him the rest of your life.” It’s not Larry’s clutch shots and passes I remember first, it’s his hustle, diving to the floor to grab control of a loose ball, slamming his chin on the court. Larry was a warrior.

Jim Barton, Dartmouth basketballJim Barton. Jim was a star basketball player at Dartmouth College in the late 1980s when I was a student there. He could catch a pass and get off a shot in one instantaneous motion — and it always went in. His heroics made me lose my voice every game. He was among the nation’s scoring leaders, and at the time, I had never witnessed a more electric athlete in person.

Nomar. As a member of the Red Sox, his love for playing baseball was obvious, and even though he was an Nomar Garciaparra t-shirtall-star, he was humble and appreciated his success. He seemed to be hustling every minute of the game, even in the dugout (mentally). He was my first son’s first favorite Sox player, which has cemented him among my top-four favorite athletes. At the age of 5, he cried when Nomar was traded to the Cubs. He still wears his Red Sox-Nomar shirt, as well as his Cubs-Nomar shirt, and at the time Nomar signed his glove, it was probably the greatest moment of his young life.

Nice list, but why does it matter?

These great athletes were also great teachers of mine. Through countless emotionally-charged athletic performances, they helped develop my world view: the belief that anything can happen if you can imagine it; that the game isn’t over until it’s over, so you must never quit; that calm, confident focus can tame the highest-pressure moments; that spectacular results hurtle towards us when we’re “in the zone;” that the team’s goal of winning supercedes individual accomplishments; and that there is nobility in playing hurt and hustling on every play.

Who are your most beloved athletes, and how have they helped shape your world view?

What if Muhammad Ali Believed He Would Fail?

Ali pounds ListonI recently posted an article over at Lifehack.org about the motivational potency of reminding myself, “Not exercising is like taking a brain damage pill.”

This got me thinking about the importance of how we talk to ourselves inside our own heads. Don’t think it’s that big a deal? Consider this question:

How would the history of sports be different if Martina Navratilova, Jack Nicklaus, Muhammad Ali, Joe Montana, Nadia Comaneci, David Ortiz, and Michael Jordan all had the habit of thinking to themselves, “You’re going to choke – you can’t do it – here comes disaster!” just prior to the most critical moments in their athletic careers?

An absurd notion, I know — which underscores the fundamental power of the words we use (and don’t use) in our heads, every moment of every day.

Return on Relationship

Present and Future CustomersI love equations that explain seemingly complicated ideas in simple ways. Here’s one I stumbled upon a few years ago in Return on Customer, by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, that has crystallized the way I think about customer relationships (and non-profits’ relationships with their philanthropic supporters). It’s ingenious because it balances the priority of maximizing current-year cash flows with the priority of replenishing customer equity for the future.

Return on Customer/Donor Relationship = [(Cash Flow in Year 1) + (Change in Customer’s Lifetime Value in Year 1)] divided by (Customer’s Lifetime Value at Start of Year 1)

The concept here that is too often ignored is “Lifetime Value.” A customer or donor is more than just a person who provides revenues during the current year. He/she also goes up and down in lifetime value to the organization.

As Peppers and Rogers write, “When a customer has a good (or bad) experience with a company and decides on the basis of that experience to give more future business to it (or less), the firm has gained (or lost) value at that very instant, with the customer’s change of mind. It doesn’t matter that the extra business a customer might give a company won’t happen for a few months or even a few years – the customer’s intent has changed already, and so the customer’s lifetime value went up (or down) immediately, in the same way a share price would go up imnmediately if the company were suddenly expecting better profits sometime in the future.”

Imagine how companies and non-profits would behave differently if they knew the future value to the organization they were destroying through some of their aggressive strategies for short-term revenue! And imagine how staff would behave differently if they were measured on their performance in maximizing “Return on Customer Relationship” for their organization’s most high-potential customers!

(I’ll be presenting on this topic this Sunday, at the annual CASE/NAIS Conference in Philadelphia. Where it is currently very cold. Why couldn’t they have held this conference in Florida?)

What if We Were Starting From Scratch?

building a wallAnother compelling way to think about investing your “100 marbles” is to ask, “If we were starting this company (or rock band, or non-profit, or department, or marriage) from scratch, how would we build it?”

This question is markedly different from the question, “How would we change our marble allocation to improve results?” The starting from scratch question offers the metaphor of a clean slate – a blank page – a new beginning.

It forces us reexamine the questions, “What’s the point of our company (or non-profit, etc.) anyway? What are we trying to accomplish? And what are the proven, leading-edge methods for accomplishing this?” Rather than thinking about merely adjusting current strategy, staffing, and spending (which implies incremental improvement), the starting from scratch question liberates us to choose an entirely different tack – or an entirely different goal.

Thinking about adjustments tethers us to the current reality (“Add a part-time staff member; Spend 30 more minutes per day talking with customers; Increase the marketing budget”). But talking about starting from scratch unhinges us from the current budget, the current staffing model, and all of our current routines. We can ask, “How would we staff our organization to achieve optimum results?” and “What kinds of people would we hire?” and “What would these people spend most of their time doing?”

And the answers might require us not to simply “add a sax player,” but to fire everybody in the band and hire new musicians — at least one of whom can drive the band’s bus to out-of-town gigs…

(note: You can read my original “100 Marbles” article at Lifehack.org by clicking here)