How do you brief your people when you make a decision? Do you communicate your decision rationale effectively? Are you helping them identify potholes that they may encounter in the road ahead? Are you checking to see if they understand what their roles and responsibilities are? To help you brief your people more effectively, I advocate a methodology described by Gary Klein, Karl Weick, and Kathleen Sutcliffe. It's a simple five-step process:
1. Situation: Here's what I think we face.
2. Task: Here's what I think we should do.
3. Intent: Here's why I think that is what we should do.
4. Concern: Here's what we should keep our eye on, because if that changes, we are in a whole new situation.
5. Calibrate: Now talk to me. Tell me if you don't understand, cannot do it, or see something I do not.
Friday, March 07, 2014
Thursday, March 06, 2014
The Wall Street Journal reports today that Abercrombie and Fitch plans to reposition its Hollister chain of apparel stores. Abercrombie has been struggling lately, after many years of success. The flagship brand has seen a substantial drop in sales, and Hollister has experienced problems as well. Hollister same stores sales decreased by 14% last year. Now Abercrombie apparently plans to reposition Hollister as a "fast fashion" brand in the mold of Zara and Forever 21. Fast fashion retailers do not place big bets on bold new cutting edge fashions. Instead, they assess fashion trends, and they move very quickly to "follow" the hottest apparel industry developments. Fast fashion firms do not place huge bets. Instead, they build an agile supply chain, and as a result, they are able to cut their losses quickly on fashion misses and move to pursue trends that are more promising.
Can Abercrombie reposition Hollister successfully? They might be able to do so, but it will require rethinking the ENTIRE VALUE CHAIN for the company. They will need to rethink how store operations work, the structure of the supply chain, the merchandising strategy, the way they market and price their products, etc. Changing only one, or even just a few, of these items will not enable a successful transition to a "fast fashion" model. Companies that have succeeded in fast fashion have rethought the entire way of doing business in the apparel retailing industry. Abercrombie will have to do the same.
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
Tuesday, March 04, 2014
Rachel Emma Silverman of the Wall Street Journal reported this week on a new study by University of California-Irvine's Gloria Mark and co-authors from Microsoft Research. Mark and her colleagues tracked 32 workers at Microsoft for more than 1,500 hours. They found that people's moods brightened when they performed busywork (i.e. rote activities), and they were less happy when they tackled challenging tasks. The article quotes Mark: “Focus involves a kind of stress and people aren’t generally happy when they are stressed,” says Dr. Mark. By contrast, “rote work is effortless, so you can get gratification for getting things done.”
What do I make of these findings? I think we have to take them with a large grain of salt. Years of research on intrinsic motivation shows that people value work in which:
- they have autonomy
- they feel that they are making a contribution to a greater goal
- they find challenging and rewarding
- there is some variety in the tasks being performed over time
What accounts for the difference in the findings? Well, if you evaluate people in the moment, I think you get different answers. In other words, the Microsoft study appears to examine people who are performing challenging work, and then from time to time, they perform some busywork. Of course, the busywork may be a great relief, a nice break from their tough duties. However, that's not the same as saying busywork is always mood brightening. If all you did was rote work, you might not be so happy. So, busywork can lighten the mood, but perhaps only when it comes in small doses amidst a stream of work that has the characteristics I listed above in bullet points.
Friday, February 28, 2014
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Several weeks ago, Adam Bryant of the New York Times interviewed David Rosenblatt, chief executive of 1stdibs, an online marketplace for high-end goods. He asked Rosenblatt about some of the key lessons he has learned in his career. Rosenblatt talked about struggling to determine how he should allocate his time during his early days as a chief executive. He then explained that he had established some rules that helped him in this area. Here's an excerpt:
I learned Rule No. 1 from Irv Grousbeck, who teaches an entrepreneurship class at Stanford Business School. And that is, very simply, “You can hire people to do everything but hire people.” Rule No. 2 that I think about every day is, “Only do the things that only I can do.” So if it’s someone else’s job to do it, I try not to do it. If I find myself doing too many of those things that are actually someone else’s job, then it relates back to Rule No. 1 — I probably don’t have the right person in that role. But just like anyone in any role, it’s important to understand, where is my comparative advantage? What am I better at than almost anyone else?
The article contains more on this subject. I recommend taking a look. The two rules are a great start though. I think the second one needs to be an explicit question that each leader poses to himself or herself. As the leader on a major program here at Bryant University, I know that I need to address this question. As I launched the program, I was doing many things. Now, as the program matures, I have to think about the way I'm spending my time. I'm clearly not playing to my comparative advantage. Many leaders find themselves doing a bit of everything when an organization is in start-up phase. Then, as the firm grows, they need to focus on that comparative advantage question. It's hard to let go, but you can't make the organization successful without addressing this issue.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Josh Bersin has written a fascinating article for Forbes about measuring the performance of your people. He argues that many performance appraisal systems are flawed because they presume that performance follows a Bell Curve (normal) distribution. However, Bersin points out some new research that suggests that a Bell Curve does not apply. He states, "Research conducted in 2011 and 2012 by Ernest O’Boyle Jr. and Herman Aguinis (633,263 researchers, entertainers, politicians, and athletes in a total of 198 samples). found that performance in 94 percent of these groups did not follow a normal distribution. Rather these groups fall into what is called a “Power Law” distribution."
What does that mean? A "Power Law" distribution has a very small number of exceptional performers, a wide swath of people who are solid, but not great, performers and a few folks who are substantial underperformers. The high performers are so exceptional that they drag the mean up quite significantly. In other words, it's a skewed distribution. The median falls below the mean. Put another way, most people fall below the mean.
You can see the problem with performance appraisal systems, particularly those "rank and yank" systems that assume a normal distribution. You can also see why some factors other than public policy may be driving income inequality. In many industries, these "hyperperformers" get paid extremely high sums of money. Finally, Bersin offers some thoughts on how we think about the large number of people "in the middle" of the distribution:
The power law distribution (also called a Paretian Distribution) shows that there are many levels of high performance, and the population of people below the “hyper performers” is distributed among “near hyper-performers” all the way down to “low performers.”  You still have a large variation in people and there will be a large group of “high-potentials,” a group of people who are “potential high-potentials,” and a small group who just don’t fit at all. The distribution reflects the idea that “we want everyone to become a hyper-performer” if they can find the right role, and that we don’t limit people at the top of the curve – we try to build more of them.