ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Problem with Not Demanding Excellence

In my book, Leading and Managing a Global Workforce there is a chapter about the tyranny of pleasantness – going along to get along. It’s so dangerous and often leads to agreeing to take action that you know is wrong – just so that you don’t look different.

We emphasize teams and consensus so much that we’ve created an environment in which people are afraid to stick out. I love a quote from former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. She described consensus as the process of “abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies…something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.”

This reminds me of my definition of compromise. She likes black, he likes white so they get gray – and neither is happy.

People who need to be liked, who want to be one of the gang, are often the same people who are afraid to be critical and to demand excellence from others. Those who do demand it are often called names. I can recall both Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand being vilified because they paid attention to every tiny detail involved with their performances. Ditto Michael Jackson, I think.

So, I have to share one of my favorite poems:

Aspiring to Excellence is a Pretty Good Idea
by Charles Osgood

There once was a pretty good student,
Who sat in a pretty good class,”
And was taught by a pretty good teacher,
Who always let pretty good pass.

He wasn’t terrific at reading,
He wasn’t a whiz-bang at math.
But for him education was leading
Straight down a pretty good path.

He didn’t find school too exciting,
But he wanted to do pretty well,
And he did have some trouble with writing,
And nobody taught him to spell.

When doing arithmetic problems,
Pretty good was regarded as fine.
Five plus five needn’t always add up to be ten,
A pretty good answer was nine.

The pretty good class that he sat in,
Was part of a pretty good school.
And the student was not an exception,
On the contrary, he was the rule.

The pretty good school that he went to
Was there in a pretty good town.
And nobody there seemed to notice
He could not tell a verb from a noun.

The pretty good student in fact
Was part of a pretty good mob
And the first time he knew what he lacked
Was when he looked for a pretty good job.

It was then, when he sought a position,
He discovered that life could be tough.
And he soon had a sneaky suspicion
Pretty good might not be good enough.

The pretty good town in our story
Was part of a pretty good state,
Which had pretty good aspirations,
And prayed for a pretty good fate.

There once was a pretty good nation,
Pretty proud of the greatness it had,
Which learned must too late,
If you want to be great,
Pretty good is, in fact, pretty bad.

Overlaps and Gaps in Organizations

I’ve discovered that it isn’t unusual for organizations to have more than one department taking responsibility for the same activities as another department, with no one knowing that this redundancy exists. At the same time, there are usually gaps where no one group is assuming responsibility for a set of activities, each assuming that it is being handled elsewhere.

Interestingly enough, these problems can be found in organizations of all sizes, both public and private.

Let me give you one example of how I discovered and solved these problems for one of my organizational clients.

While working in a division of a mid-sized organization (approximately 500 employees) I met with department heads and key staff of each of the dozen or so departments in this division. I asked each group to share with me their key areas of responsibilities. I jotted these on flip chart paper and then had them blown up into large poster size pages.
These enlarged posters were put up along the walls of a conference room in what appeared to be the most logical order. 
I invited the leadership of the division and the leaders and key people in each of the departments to a meeting and had them walk around the room, looking at what had been entered on the poster.

They discovered the overlap. They discovered the gaps. They were shocked to learn that none of this had been discovered before - and their VP was embarrassed. There had been a lack of cooperation between members of the management team of this division.

Our next step was to have managers agree as to which group would assume responsibility for the areas of overlap – freeing the other group to stop handling these activities. 

It took longer to actually identify the gaps and make plans to have these tasks handled effectively. It was strange to learn that nothing had been done about some of these things for months – and of course the question was, “Do we really need to pay attention or just leave it to die?” That led to some interesting discussions.

Silos and Lack of Cooperation

In another case, we discovered that various design-engineering groups refused to cooperate with each other and each designed their own graphics, art work, shortcuts, etc., so that there was no consistency or continuity in the look they provided their customers.

This was because there was no cooperation at the management level of this engineering organization.

When asked to cooperate with other design groups, the response was “We did our job, let them do theirs.” It took quite some time and persuading to come to an agreement to common looks, etc.

Unless there is open communication and cooperation at every level in an organization – especially the upper management team – problems like these will continue to exist.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Managers Encouraging the Best

 Years ago my Kung Fu sensei told me "It takes level to see level." It's certainly true and most obvious in something like martial arts. For example, if you are new student - a white belt - all upper belts seem equally powerful and adept. If, on the other hand you are a fourth degree black belt, you can easily see the subtle differences in skill of those whose belts are lower than yours.

Sadly, it takes level to see level in the business world as well. Which, I suppose is why most often managers hire people whose intelligence and abilities are slightly less than their own. It might also be the reason that "tall nails get hammered down."

All too often it is the outstanding member of the department that gets the most negative feedback. "Talks too much," "isn't a team player,"  "a loose cannon," and other pejorative terms. 

We all say we want brilliance and creativity - but all too often we hammer it down. I recall that most of the CEOs I interviewed during my managing for creativity research shared their concerns that it was their managers that were fearful and knocked down any creativity - and creative people.

So, I wonder - is it OK for only a small handful of people to be the brains in the organization with everyone else just following along passively? Can a company flourish that way? Or, do we really do better when most of our people are the best we can find. 

Yes, of course we want "B" players who do the detail and routine work - A players would get bored to easily. BUT, what's the right ratio?

It seems to me that part of the problem is the range of responsibilities we place on managers. These demands might be the primary reason they need to hire people who are less knowledgeable and skilled than they are - after all these managers need to justify their jobs.

It is said that managers need to be able to teach, train, coach, delegate, maintain quality control, oversee and of course hold their people accountable for deliverables. Managers are also in the position of being in the middle of the sandwich - having to fulfill demands from above and maintain relationships and goodwill with those they manage.

It must be scary then to have to manage people much smarter and more creative than you!

Hiring the Best - the A Player
There are many hiring schemas available to management from standardized tests to behavioral questions, to technical skill tests and even to weird questions designed just to find out how a person thinks.

There is dispute as to whether a group of people sitting together should be the hiring team, or whether individual interviews are better. Should the decision be made by many people or should they only have input and one person makes the final decisions?

Too, how can you judge people whose intelligence and skills are much greater than your own? How can you take the risk and hire someone who you fear will show you up and take your job?

And, perhaps you also need to consider what you write in the job description.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Linkage between Attitude and Ethics

Before I even give formal definitions of these two words, let me tell you in more detail why I decided to link them together. With the right attitude – which is to do your best, do no harm, treat people fairly and be honest in all you do – you are naturally ethical.
If we could convince everyone to behave with this positive attitude, there probably would be 95% less car accidents, burglaries, or other crimes.
Ethics is a set of rules. Attitude comes from the heart and mind.

In our business organizations we frequently have a code of values – if you think about it, those values require specific attitudes and behaviors. Without the right attitude – or frame of mind if you prefer – the values are given lip service at best.

When we talk about “walking our talk” we are stating the importance of integrity – an attitude which dictates a set of behavior.

One can follow the rules – but have a lousy attitude doing so.

Let me show you what I mean:

Example 1: Time to Check Out

I was conducting a series of workshops for a county agency. One of the workshops met regularly on Wednesday from 3 – 5 p.m. Quitting time for this organization was 5 p.m.

Each week one of the participants folded up her notebook, took out her purse, applied lipstick, closed the purse and sat with her hands folded waiting for 5 p.m. She did this over and over again at 4:45. By the way, she was the union representative – someone who should have been setting a fine example…well, maybe she was setting the example she thought was correct.

Technically, she was waiting for the bell to ring. Attitude said, what was being discussed in the workshop didn’t matter to her – and she didn’t owe her employer the fifteen minutes she was sitting there – she just had to follow the rules and not leave before 5 p.m.

Ethics are a set of rules. Attitude is living a principled life.

Now that I’ve given you an example of a poor attitude – let me share what I observed of a fabulously positive workplace attitude.

Example 2: Great Customer Service

I spent several minutes many times in the lobby of one of the buildings of a business that was my client, waiting to be escorted in to my meeting with the general manager. So, I had ample opportunity to watch the lobby receptionist in action. Let me tell you about just two of many observations I made:
  •        An employee left her briefcase in the lobby. Instead of ignoring it, or merely giving it to lost and found, the receptionist called the employee to tell her that she had her briefcase and was keeping it in a safe place until it could be retrieved.
  •        A family whose members appeared to be very poor and in need because of the way they were dressed came into the lobby. Instead of having them removed, or being short with them, she spoke with them as kindly as she did with me or any other executive coming in. The adults were looking for work. She directed them to the correct building, gave them a hand-drawn map, and also the name of the person they should ask for. Customer service at its best.
Defining Our Terms

Ethics stands somewhere in the middle of morality and law. It is a code of behavior that includes areas specific to a particular profession, business, or association. There are differences in ethical codes people are asked to sign – including those in employee handbooks.

Webster’s says:

Moral: (1) Pertaining to, or concerned with right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong. (2) Concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct.

Morality: (1) Conformity to the rules of right conduct; moral or virtuous conduct. (2) Virtue in sexual matters; chastity a moral quality of character.

Ethic: (1) The body of moral principles or values governing or distinctive of a particular culture or group. (2) A complex of moral precepts held or rules of conduct followed by an individual.

Ethical: (1) Pertaining to or dealing with morals or the principles of morality; pertaining to right and wrong conduct. (2) In accordance with the rules or standards for right conduct or practice, especially the standards of a profession.

Attitude: (1) Manner, disposition, feeling, position, etc., with regard to a person or thing; tendency or orientation especially of the mind. (2) Position or posture of the body appropriate to or expressive of an action, emotion, etc.

Moral Decisions

When I looked up morality in Wikipedia I found a fascinating series of articles written by Sir Bernard Williams. He wrote many books in his attempt to understand and explain morality and ethics. Borrowing from him, I want to offer you one of his examples and then his explanations:

Example: Whom Do You Kill?

(Williams says) take the case of Jim, a botanist doing research in a South American country led by a brutal dictator. Unfortunately, Jim eventually finds himself in a small town facing 20 Indian rebels who have been captured and tied up as examples of what will happen to others. The captain, who has arrested them, says that if Jim will kill one, the others will be released in honor of Jim’s status as a guest, but if he does not they will all be killed.

Williams hypothesizes that “the utilitarian would favor Jim killing one of the men.” Williams argued against this saying in part: “the utilitarian…turning us into empty vessels by means of which consequences occur, rather than preserving our status as moral actors…moral decisions must preserve our psychological identity and integrity.

I offer you that example, because I so thoroughly agree that our moral decisions must preserve our psychological identity and integrity. I love that phrase.

As a child, when I asked my parents for advice about something pertaining to right and wrong their answer almost always was: “you have to look yourself in the mirror.” Decide accordingly.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Business Plans

Lately, I’ve worked with several people needing to write business plans. Since their needs differ, and on-line business plans tend to be canned, there is sometimes confusion as to what to write, how much detail to go into, etc.

When teaching the Business Planning Seminar to MBA students I learned that when people create a new business they are enamored with their product or service – and thus want to emphasis the features and benefits of the product/service rather than focus on their actual target audience.

So, let me start by saying that there are multiple purposes for writing a business plan and that each of these requires a somewhat different approach – although much of the same information.
  1. You need to start with a road map for yourself and your team. This is a basic business plan you develop to help you move forward. It doesn’t have to be pretty and it doesn’t need all the fancy marketing words. It’s an internal document – and of course it changes as your business grows. It can be as short or as detailed as you need it to be – but it is the guide for you and your internal founding team.
  2. You are asking family and friends to support your idea by investing with you. Here you are making a combination business and emotional appeal. It is probably more the emotional appeal – about you and how hard you will work to make this dream come true – that that they care about and respond to – but they also want to see some sensible financial projections.
  3.  You need a more formal business plan with financial projects for the bank when applying for a loan. The bank is primarily interested in two things:  Your ability to repay the loan and your equity, which might be your business assets – or even your home.
  4. You are starting a non-profit because your goals are to help your fellow man in some particular way. You are not planning to make a profit, to go public, etc. So, you cannot make any re-payment promises, or profit-sharing. Instead, you are promising to do something that others can donate to (donations, fund-raisers, grants) that will help humanity and appeal to their emotional interests as well. Thus what you focus on is the manner in which your services will “do good.”
  5. You are seeking early stage investors – or angels. These savvy people care less about your product/service than they do about your ability to execute on the promises you make. They want to know Who is your team – what are their prior successes and how well can they work together? They also want to know what’s in it for them if they invest with you. Do not spend most of your time excitedly sharing the wonderfulness of the new product/service you are developing. You need to “sell” that aspect, but quickly. Your primary focus needs to be answering the question: “What’s in it for me (the potential investor?)”
  6. You are attempting to sell your company. Now it is important to share the value the brain power of your group offers. Why not just steal your product? Why buy the company itself? Because, of course, your team and staff are smarter, cleverer and more creative together than if they would be split up. That’s your primary selling point. Yes, it is true that having some proprietary secret sauce helps too.
  7. The ultimate goal of too many people in my opinion: going public. Here scalability becomes the key to exciting venture capitalists. Can you scale up so you are selling millions and billions of people – and make money doing it?
As you can see, the focus changes when your target audience shifts. Your executive summary should be geared primarily to your targeted audience. Yes, you need the competitive analysis, the operations, the team, the marketing, the finances, etc…. but the emphasis is where you shift depending on your audience. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Neutral Investigations/Evaluations

I’ve counseled and written about this issue numerous times. So often well-intended people, thinking they are being neutral wind up only considering evidence that supports either the allegation, or their personal point of view. This is human nature.

I’ve always believed that this was true in subjective areas, such as whether someone is telling the truth or lying, or if they sexually harassed someone, or inadvertently insulted them. Eye witness identification is a classic example of how wrong people can be when they think they know the person who was responsible for the crime. Research has shown, over and over again, that eye witness identification is extremely faulty and subject to all sorts of influences.

HR and legal evaluations often go about their investigation looking solely for evidence that supports allegations – and refuse to listen to those that would refute it. I’ve read many reports which argue that the person trying to give evidence on the other side is either “denying” or “lying.”  

Not so long ago I attended a lecture by a brilliant presenter, Dr. Itiel Dror, who is a world renowned neuroscientist and a leading expert on cognitive bias in expert testimony in the criminal justice system. 

Among the many things he said:
  • There is lots of research that says your cognitive bias affects your conclusions. If you change the scenario (for example give them two sets of the same person’s fingerprints to be compared to a third set – but in case A saying that the person was found guilty and in case B saying that they knew the person was not guilty) the fingerprint experts (with many years of experience) will find differently. In case A they will see a match, whereas in case B they will determine that the two prints are dissimilar.
  •  Motivation influences visiual perception. He showed us a few examples which I am unable to copy here, but looked at one way they mean one thing and another way a different object. You’ve all see the vase and the people example – he showed two others.
  • There is also confirmation bias – confirming a point of view – which is what I’ve mentioned above. Disconfirming information is ignored.
  • He says seasoned experts minimize cognitive contamination – in the same way we protect against physical contamination. In their desire to get to the pure information, they protect themselves against other information coming in.
In pure research we try to avoid contamination and reduce the experimental design to clean out as many variables as possible. Dr. Dror suggests that when a case is given to a forensic expert, it should be given with as little additional information as possible. He drew a quadrant:

                                                            Relevant                                  Not Relevant

And he suggested that experts be given only the information that is both relevant and non-biasing. They must be blind to irrelevant information. If necessary, there could be sequential unmasking of information.

Now, unfortunately, this is not entirely possible in our workplace evaluations of an allegation of misconduct – but we should strive to be as neutral and un-biasing as possible. If the person interviewing the complainant doesn’t give other than the very basic information to an evaluator, without suggesting that the complainant was believable or not, or had other incidents, or that there were other complaints against the alleged perpetrator than at least we reduce some of the bias.

It is also critically important to know your own prejudices. We all have them – the more aware and honest with yourself you are the less likely you are to pre-judge based on them. It is so important to be as neutral as humanly possible when doing evaluations and investigations.

Creativity Stifled

Before I really start on this theme, I need to once again assert that when I talk about creativity I am talking about it in all forms, not just music and art – or creating the great innovative breakthrough. Creativity is the ability to think independently and to come to new solutions, new ways of considering things, new ways of behaving, etc. It’s being aware of your surroundings and responding not merely obeying and following. It’s improving processes, treating people intuitively and allowing yourself to be yourself, not merely a clone of others.

When we watch young children we see them as curious, energetic and incredibly creative.  What happens? Why, as they age are most of them afraid to take a risk? 

It seems to me that all too often parents, teachers and others stifle this natural tendency to explore by making sure kids color within the lines, follow instructions, do exactly as they are told, follow tradition, and all the other words we use to force conformity.

What happens to the creative kid in school who wants to try a different approach to solving a problem?  

Why do we see “a nation of sheep” – people who value conformity and “not making waves”  as more important than expression of ideas?

Whoever said, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all”?
Speaking out is so important. 

The world is a dangerous place,
not because of those who do evil,
but because of those who look on and do nothing.
Albert Einstein.

In my book Conflict in the Workplace: Causes and Cures, I devote a whole chapter to The Tyranny of Pleasantness. 

When people are afraid to speak out because they are seen as not a team player, or contrary, or some other bad thing, decisions are made that may not be the best. Remember, the camel is a horse designed by a committee. All too often, the one who sees it differently – and probably better – has been shut down so often in the past that he or she stays silent.

Would women have had the vote if a group of them didn’t speak out? Would the civil rights movement have occurred if people weren’t willing to speak out? Could we have finally given gays rights if they had reminded silent?

Would we have stopped the mutilation and the holocaust and the killing fields – if we had chosen to speak out earlier?

All that is necessary for evil to happen is for good men to remain silent.

And not just about good and evil – what about taking men who had been confined to wheel chairs because of spinal cord injuries and teaching them they could play basketball – what about helping to relieve the depression and hopelessness of quadriplegics by teaching them to write with their mouths – and to have gurney races down the corridor of their hospital? (P.S. The nurses hated me, but the chief of psychiatry gave me full rein.)

What about so many changes that come about because someone is willing to say, “Let’s not do it the way we’ve always done it – let’s try something different.”?

Finally, what about all the innovations that come about because of “kooks”, “nerds”, “loose cannons”, curmudgeons and “dreamers” – who dare to try?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Sticks ‘N’ Stones Will Break My Bones, But Words Will Break My Heart

I am offering this piece to you because of several recent conversations I’ve had with people arguing about whether a group of people are “overly-sensitive” to slights. I think it’s important to respect that someone may be sensitive to something for their own reasons – and those are not necessarily the same as mine.

Remember the old children’s retort, “sticks ‘n’ stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me”? Children would chant it in an attempt to deal with the pain of insults, slurs, teasing and other verbal taunts.

Did it work? A little bit.

Acts of bravado do indeed make us feel a little better about ourselves, but, and this is a very important but, they never do erase the pain and humiliation we experience when others call us names or say bad things about “our kind.”

In this age of expediency, pragmatism, and political-correctness, we seem to have lost some important social truths! It is hurtful to say things about a person – or parts of their anatomy – or a group of people, that leave them embarrassed, humiliated, or diminished in any way. Although beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, insults are in the ear of the receiver.

So, if the other person, or group of people, believes a particular word or phrase or symbol to be ugly, demeaning, threatening, or insulting, it is! It is, because it is to them.

The bottom line is: if you don’t intend to hurt others, please pay attention to and respect the requests of the groups or individuals who ask us not to use certain descriptors or symbols.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Cutbacks Don't Have to Sink Employee Morale

It's hard to stay up in down times, but it's crucially important to the health and success of individuals and organizations.

During bad times, most people cut back, do less, and dispense with frills and many pleasures.

Managers do the same thing. They curtail the coffee, bagels and donuts, and stop having the Friday afternoon pizza parties. They also eliminate needed equipment, like cell phones and printers.

Consequently, at the very time when people need to nurture themselves and be nurtured, they are deprived and made to feel diminished.

What's the solution to staying upbeat, while being conservative with resources? It is to recognize the importance of pleasure, fun and laughter to morale. Both individuals and managers need to sort carefully and keep those things that allow for the maintenance of good morale. Eliminate big unnecessary expenses, but keep what really matters in your day-to-day life. Sometimes spending saves in the long run.


* Take care of yourself even if you think all your time should be spent job hunting, earning money or worrying.

* List everything you do and buy that are not essentials. Prioritize the list in order of how much personal pleasure each of these gives. Add the cost of each item. Eliminate those with the lowest priority as well as the expensive ones with only medium priority.

* Ask loved ones to make similar lists and the same decisions.

* Consider small pleasures and add some to your weekly routine, such as walking on the beach, bubble baths, basketball, playing with your children and playing board games.

* Increase exercise and particularly time outdoors, walking, running, swimming, playing golf or tennis, etc.

* Don't punish yourself for being caught up in the recession. It's not your fault and you should not feel less about yourself because you are out of work or experiencing a loss of status. You haven't changed, the situation has. Don't confuse the two.

* Don't associate with people who make you feel worse. If you have no choice, such as with a parent, child or spouse, let them know how they make you feel. If necessary, get a few hours of professional help to enable you to work out these issues with those you love.


* Recognize the importance of keeping morale and motivation up among your employees. Do not be penny wise and pound foolish.

* Meet with employees regularly in small groups to discuss feelings and concerns. Be as honest as you can, while at the same time being relatively upbeat about the future of the company.

* Look at large expenses, such as first-class travel, expensive cars and extravagant trips and determine which you can eliminate or do less often.

* If your company has very high salaries, bonuses or commissions for upper managers, find a way to reduce them and let employees know you have done so.

* Maintain those small perks that make people feel good. In particular, never take the coffee, bagels and donuts away. Perhaps you need to have the pizza parties once a month, instead of once a week, but continue them.

* You might even add to the small perks to improve morale.

* Create incentive bonuses for success instead of automatic raises.

* Streamline systems and improve processes with your workers, so they can work smarter with less.

* Show people you care in other ways, perhaps by allowing more flexible time for those working so hard to keep up with the demand.

In short, manage your morale and those for whom you are responsible by recognizing the importance of communication, caring and pleasure. Be selective, but do not deny yourself or others with things enabling them to continue to get out of bed in the morning and look forward to the day, the week and their lives.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Getting Older and Wanting to Work

Getting older is not a crime. Yet I hear so many career counselors parrot the words to deny your age, don’t put dates on your resume, dumb yourself down, and in other words pretend to be less than you really are.

I disagree.

It’s not about the numbers – it’s about the energy. Do you look like you are dying or do you look energized, full of vim and vigor and ready to do the job for which you are applying?

How you look, dress, act, behave all tell a great deal about you. When I talk with members of CSIX, (an all-volunteer group dedicated to helping those out of work) I note that many of the out-of-work members of the audience look and dress as though they’d given up completely. Depression gets in the way of energy. 

My advice: you need to re-energize yourself. Join a club. Exercise. Socialize. Get out of your rut and do something different. Stop sitting on the couch watching TV and bemoaning your fate and get out there and do something FUN.

Most of all, check out your personal grooming. Do you need to get a haircut, shave, trim your nails, need to wear decent clothes? All of these say a great deal about what you think of yourself – and therefore what others think of you.

Dress for Success
Do you remember that book? It was the one recommending that everyone look like clones of each other in the standard man-tailored grey suit. Women were to pretend to look like men. 

Well, when I suggest that you dress for success, that’s not what I mean. Others will suggest you dress “one step above” what others are wearing and some will say, “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have.” These are both good ways to suggest you dress well, whether at work, or looking for work.

Don’t wear your old raggedy jeans when networking. Wear a pair of tailored slacks. Don’t wear a tee shirt, or hoodie, but wear a nice tailored blouse, shirt or sweater. AND, please don’t tell me that you are a “techie” and therefore that’s how everyone dresses.

As my mother would have said, “If everyone else is jumping off the roof, does that mean you have to do it too?”

Your job is to look your professional best – not your shlubby worst.