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graphI’ve been putting together a workshop at the local SBDC next week about incorporating mission and values into your business.  There’s a breakthrough concept that can be applied here which changes how you achieve your goals.

In business, we have assumptions that:

  • If it can’t be measured, it won’t get done.
  • Everything has to be measured in numbers, preferably with a dollar sign in front.

When I state it this bluntly, you can see where the fallacy is.  Can you imagine measuring your personal happiness this way?

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power plugYou can have the best strategy on the planet, but nothing gets delivered without your people. They are the powerful core of a great business.

What happens when your workforce isn’t pushing your strategy forward? Well, two things are happening. Some people are headed off in random directions, so you end up with chaos. Others are too afraid to take any significant action at all, so you get nothing.

Neither of those achieves your goals.

We all understand that a team’s actions, individually and collectively, must be focused on the right objectives. That’s what management does.

But out here in the real world, it’s not just about breaking big goals into team objectives and individual actions. If you stick to that, your competition will swiftly overtake you. You’ve ended up with a bureaucracy, where following The Plan is more important than actually moving forward.

This is where leadership comes in. Management operates best with logic and procedure, while leadership calls upon inspiration and emotion. Together, the two elicit focus, dedication, teamwork and self-management.

I’m not saying that your company needs to be overtly emotional. For instance, look at President Kennedy’s moon-shot program during the 1960s. NASA was an amazing engineering organization, and engineers aren’t exactly known to be emotional. But they were absolutely inspired, dedicated and focused — even to the degree that momentum powerfully continued past JFK’s death in 1963.

That’s also a great example of how inspiration is infectious. Congress was absolutely dedicated to the program as well, ensuring generous funding. The Legislature could have done nothing without NASA, and NASA would have done nothing without Congress.

Likewise, your leaders and managers can do little without your workers and partners. They, in turn, will achieve nothing of value without management processes and leadership inspiration.

Together, you can be absolutely unstoppable.

That brings up a major issue, though, with powerful objects. Consider a supertanker, or a freight train, or a rocket engine. They struggle with making quick changes of direction.

Your business needs to operate in a competitive environment, with shifting customer demands and ever-changing technology. In some industries, include unstable government regulation.

Yet your people are good at doing things a certain way, and management structures reinforce sticking to what’s worked well in the past.

This is where true leadership makes the most impact. The best leaders I’ve seen are the ones who refuse to sacrifice the core values and mission of an organization. make timely decisions to alter goals and strategies to keep up with (and lead) change, and drive the management systems to quickly align the workforce around a new direction.

This sounds contradictory: How are we to change direction but not change our mission? We can do it because these are two distinct levels.

Perhaps your deepest personal values are to be healthy and have a long, happy life. Within that, there are many options. A new exercise device comes out that helps you stay healthy while having more fun. Or you get sick for awhile and switch to different exercises. Or you just want to change because you’re tiring of the old routine. All of these changes are perfectly fine for helping you achieve your deeper values.

This is exactly why it’s important to distinguish between the two levels in your business.

If your employees think the purpose of your business is to keep them employed, then they’re operating at a very basic level. You have much bigger goals than that, even ones you would never ever sacrifice.

One way to tell the depth of your goal is with this simple question: Would you rather shut down the business entirely rather than sacrifice the goal? The closer you get to answering “yes,” the more you’ve identified the unshakable foundation of your company.

Does each and every employee understand what that is, and work every day to deliver their part? Is each manager constantly looking for improvements?

Are they inspired?

This article was first published in BizWest.

orgI work with businesses all the time which are struggling with their employee programs and benefits.  It’s something you know you have to do in order to be seen as a solid employer and retain your folks.

But it’s so easy to get mired down in all the details!

The details are important, sure, but you can lose your way.

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Starting out as a software engineer in computer communications, I ran across the robustness principle:

Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others

accept rejectIt’s a highly useful approach to get software programs to work well with each other, but I’ve also learned that it’s even more powerful when talking about human relationships.

Humans make a lot more mistakes than computers do.

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Image by Francisco Huguenin Uhlfelder

Image by Francisco Huguenin Uhlfelder

It was one of the most bizarre weeks in my career.

I was working for a huge global IT firm at the time, and I was working on a challenging technical issue.  Back in the 1980s, we didn’t have the whole world’s knowledge at our fingertips, so I started asking around.

I ended up talking to dozens of people around the globe.  Nobody had the answer to my question, but they had various pieces of the puzzle.

At the end of the week, I talked with a person who said he’d heard of a guy in Colorado who was doing work in this area.  SCORE!  Then he gave me my name.

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Our economy and our daily lives run on utilities. They’re so critical, in fact, that government plays a major role in ensuring their reliability and pervasive availability. But they also suffer from invisibility.

When something is reliable and universal, we don’t spend much time thinking about it. Until something interrupts it, of course, such as a flood or major storm or a human-caused event.

This happens a lot in business, too.

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tldrI ran across this curious little designation about a year ago, and I struggled to figure out why people were using it comments on blogs and discussion groups.


So of course I asked the all-knowing Google, and it turns out there’s a Wikipedia page on the topic.  It means “too long; didn’t read.”

Yet, despite directly admitting that they didn’t invest the time to read an article – much less think about it – a commenter feels the need to go ahead and respond to what they thought/feared/hoped the original writer said.

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When you think about it, “managing” your team can be a distasteful concept.

It’s built on the presumption that you have control over what they do, and are smart enough to direct their every move. Most experienced managers realize this control-and-compliance model gets just the minimum acceptable level of contribution.

And sometimes not even that.

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This article was first published in the Bolton Remote blog.

john Keogh on Flickr

Photo by john Keogh on Flickr

Most companies follow pretty much the same process for hiring:

  1. You notice that you need some work done.
  2. You write a job description.
  3. You publish that through job boards and other mechanisms.
  4. People apply for the job.
  5. You do multiple levels of filtering, ultimately talking with a few candidates in person.
  6. You make your offer to the best candidate, or if this didn’t work, go back to square one.

These are the steps we’ve been using since the industrial revolution, and you’re familiar with the two key failings Read the rest of this entry »

Amusement parkTrue confession time:  I have a real soft spot in my heart for amusement parks.  You see, I met my then-future-wife when we worked at a park for a summer in Denver.  We’ve reflected on that experience for nearly 40 years now.

So I was really interested to hear today’s episode of This American Life which was dedicated to the topic.

But this isn’t about the experience you get as a customer; what strikes me is the experience as an employee and supervisor.  Which is quite unique, let me tell you!

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