Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Mastering the One-on-One Meeting

Julia Austin, Chief Technology Officer at DigitalOcean and advisor to many startups in the Boston area, has written a terrific blog post about how to conduct effective one-on-one meetings with your direct reports.  I highly recommend reading the entire post.  Here are a few highlights: 
  • "Book a regular cadence of 1:1s. They should not be ad-hoc. It’s ok to skip one every once and awhile, but having it locked into the calendar is your commitment to being there for your employee. Decide the best cadence with them (weekly or every other week? 30 minutes or an hour?) and what the format should be – your office or theirs, a walk, or maybe grabbing coffee. Different formats work for different employees... 
  • "24 hours or so before the meeting, email the employee a list of what you’d like to cover. Try to do a split between strategic, tactical and personal items and always ask your employee what they want to cover too."
  • "Do not monopolize the conversation. This is for you each to get time to talk. Pause often and make sure there is opportunity for discussion and questions."
  • "It is important to always follow up any 1:1 (or scheduled meeting, for that matter) with notes on what was discussed, decisions made and, if relevant, any constructive feedback that will be measured going forward." 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Feedback?

The Wall Street Journal reports today on the changing culture at Kimberly-Clark, maker of products such as Huggies diapers and Kleenex tissues.   In this article, Lauren Weber writes the following: 

"One of the company’s goals now is 'managing out dead wood,' aided by performance-management software that helps track and evaluate salaried workers’ progress and quickly expose laggards... Armed with personalized goals for employees and large quantities of data, Kimberly-Clark said it expects employees to keep improving—or else. 'People can’t duck and hide in the same way they could in the past,' said Mr. Boston, who oversees talent management globally for the firm.  It has been a steep climb for a company that once resisted conflict and fostered a paternalistic culture that inspired devotion from its workers."

Weber goes to write that Kimberly-Clark's performance management system reflects a trend taking place in many companies, in which firms have eliminated annual merit reviews and replaced them with more continuous feedback.   She cites examples such as Accenture, Adobe, and GE, all of whom eliminated traditional annual performance reviews.   These firms have adopted real-time feedback systems for a number of reasons including, according to Weber, the belief that, "Millennial workers, meanwhile, demand more feedback, more coaching and a stronger sense of their career path."  

My question is simple though:   Can we take this shift to continuous monitoring, evaluation, and feedback too far?   I keep hearing that millennials want more feedback, but I've spent a ton of time around young people as a college professor.  I'm not sure any of us love being critiqued at every turn.   We work on some projects that take some time to get off the ground.   Some ideas require some time to take shape.   In short, I think this shift taking place in corporate America raises some critical questions:  Is too much early "feedback" going to quash some creative ideas?    Are managers adept enough at offering constructive critique to make this type of real-time feedback system effective at many firms?  Are we evaluating what truly drives success, or are we focused on what is easy to measure?  Are we encouraging short term thinking when we provide real-time feedback, or are we making sure to keep long term objectives in mind?  

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Early, Often, & Ugly!

Adam Bryant interviewed Christa Quarles, CEO of Open Table, in this week's New York Times Corner Office column.   Quarles describes one important leadership lesson she learned when she became CEO of the firm:  

The other surprise was that people were afraid to share things early on. Teams were trying to perfect something before they would show it to me, and they’d waste a ton of time trying to get it to be perfect to show to the C.E.O. So I said, “Early, often, ugly. It’s O.K. It doesn’t have to be perfect because then I can course­-correct much, much faster.” No amount of ugly truth scares me. It’s just information to make a decision. 

Awesome advice!  You have to strongly encourage people to show you work earlier on, because they will naturally have a tendency to want to perfect it before exposing those ideas to senior leaders.  Of course, how you then provide critique and feedback is essential.  If you attack those ideas in a fashion that is not constructive, your folks will stop bringing you ideas "early, often, and ugly."   You cannot invite those rough sketches and ideas without also considering how to critique those ideas differently than you might approach a near-finished proposal.    

Monday, August 15, 2016

Why A Few Box Office Hits Generate More Revenue Than Ever

The Wall Street Journal reports today on some interesting trends in the movie business.   According to this article by Ben Fritz, a small number of blockbuster hits accounts for a higher fraction of total box office receipts than in past years.   This year, the hits have included movies such as Finding Dory and Zootopia.  Fritz writes, "Increasingly, success in the movie business requires being one of the handful of most popular movies that draw a disproportionate amount of attention on social media and in the cultural zeitgeist. This year’s five most popular films account for 30% of the total domestic box office. At the end of last year that figure was 22%, a record at the time. The inevitable result is a smaller pool of moviegoers left to see everything else."  

Why the shift toward a larger share of revenue from the top movies of the year?   Fritz wrote an earlier column that may offer some clues.  In that piece, he noted that viewers tend to be getting their information from different sources these days.  In the past, people watched Siskel and Ebert (and others like them), and those experts shaped their movie-going decisions.  Today, people pay much more attention to what other viewers think.   What is the movie's Rotten Tomatoes score?  A bad score can doom a movie.   

Is this shift an example of the power of the wisdom of crowds?  Is it necessarily a good thing that we are using the crowd's wisdom to guide our movie-going decisions?   Interestingly, some research points to the pitfalls of the wisdom of crowds.  Jan Lorenz, Heiko Rauhut, Frank Schweitzer, and 
Dirk Helbing have studied this issue through experimental research.  They summarize their findings in the excerpt below:  

This wisdom of crowd effect was recently supported by examples from stock markets, political elections, and quiz shows [Surowiecki J (2004)The Wisdom of Crowds]. In contrast, we demonstrate by experimental evidence (N = 144) that even mild social influence can undermine the wisdom of crowd effect in simple estimation tasks. In the experiment, subjects could reconsider their response to factual questions after having received average or full information of the responses of other subjects. We compare subjects’ convergence of estimates and improvements in accuracy over five consecutive estimation periods with a control condition, in which no information about others’ responses was provided. Although groups are initially “wise,” knowledge about estimates of others narrows the diversity of opinions to such an extent that it undermines the wisdom of crowd effect in three different ways.

Interestingly, one other shift seems to be occurring in Hollywood from the production standpoint. More than ever, studios appear to be relying on franchises, sequels, and reboots.   Why is that happening?   One could argue that the studios are trying to enhance the probability of achieving a strong box office by bringing familiar characters to the screen.  That may be true to some extent, but there may be a limit to this positive impact.  At some point, they may saturate theaters with reboots and sequels, and customers may desire more originality.   

Friday, August 12, 2016

Accepting that Job Offer When the Internship Ends

You have completed your summer internship, and you have received a full-time offer of employment.  Fantastic!  Now, should you accept the position.  Most young people might say, "If you had a good summer internship experience, then of course, you should take the job."   Jon Simmons has published a good article for Fast Company that addresses this issue.   Simmons suggests that the answer might not be so simple.

How should you make this decision?   Simmons suggests careful consideration of a wide range of factors including compensation, benefits, company culture, opportunities for growth and development.  Certainly, all of these items matter.  However, I think the decision should not primarily be about factors such as compensation.  In fact, the differences in compensation across multiple job offers will be relatively trivial for most students.  The real issue is growth and development.   Interns should ask themselves three questions:

1.  Will my full-time position be substantively different than my internship experience?  Will it be more challenging?  Will I assume new responsibilities?  Will I learn new skills?  If the answer is no to these questions, then you don't want to take the offer.  The best firms that hire here at Bryant University provide full-time opportunities that build upon, but go well beyond, the internships that they offer.

2.  Does the firm have a track record of investing in the growth and development of its young employees?   Will I have opportunities to enhance my skills through in-house leadership development programs, training courses, tuition reimbursement at local universities, and mentoring by senior leaders?   If the answer is yes, then you should seriously consider taking the job offer.

3.  What are my short term career goals, and would this full-time position help me achieve those goals?  Don't think in terms of 10-15 year plans.    That's just not advisable in today's world.  Think instead of the next 5 years.  What do you hope to achieve?  Suppose you plan to apply to a top MBA program. Then ask yourself:  Will this full-time position help me gain admittance to such a school?  Suppose instead that you hope to become a young entrepreneur.  You should ask:  How will this position help me achieve that goal?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Who is More Empathetic: Intuitive or Analytical People?

The British Psychological Society's Research Digest features new work by Christine Ma-Kellams of the University of La Verne and Jennifer Lerner of Harvard. They focus on empathy, something that has gotten a great deal of attention in the management field recently. The human-centered design movement emphasizes empathy with customers as a key tool for driving innovation. Meanwhile, efforts to improve employee engagement have focused on the need for managers to empathize with their subordinates. La Verne and Lerner study how different types of people engage in empathy, and their results prove rather surprising. The Research Digest summarizes their conclusions: 

Reading what other people are feeling is an important skill that helps us navigate conflicts, deepen relationships, and negotiate effectively. So what’s the best way to approach this? New research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that most of us believe that the best approach is to trust our instincts. But the paper goes on to show that, on the contrary, accurate empathy comes from operating deliberately and analytically.

What explains this surprising finding that contradicts the conventional wisdom?  The authors argue that reading others' emotions often proves very difficult.  The cues are not always obvious or clear.  Therefore, it takes some effort to discern how others are feeling.   That's where a more analytical mindset has value.   Focusing on details, evaluating a situation comprehensively, and deliberately analyzing a variety of cues turns out to be crucial to empathizing with others in many situations.  Instincts alone do not always do the job.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

How to Listen to an Employee's Pitch

Adam Bryant interviewed Lisa Gersh recently for his New York Times Corner Office column.   Gersh explains an early leadership lesson she learned.  In short, she's talking about how the "yes, and" principle from improv comedy can be used to enhance the quality of team meetings.  


A mentor, Geraldine Laybourne, gave me a great lesson when I had my first child. She said the best way to control the “terrible 2s” and make your kids happy is to learn how to say “yes.” It doesn’t mean giving them everything they want; it means directing them to something else. The same thing is true in business. It’s about learning to say yes. People pitch ideas all the time, and I find that others in the room can often want to say no and talk about why it’s not a good idea. A bunch of really smart people can kill any idea. You can always find out what’s wrong with an idea, but you can’t necessarily find out what’s good with the idea. And so the first thing she said to me when we were starting Oxygen Media is to learn how to say yes. Listen to people’s ideas almost like an improv session, and play with the ideas. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to do the idea. It just means you’re going to listen to the idea and work on the idea.