Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I've moved!

Thanks for following my posts here. I have a brand new site, www.bretlsimmons.com

Please visit me and subscribe to my posts there.



Friday, June 19, 2009

Senator John Ensign: My two cents worth

I live in Nevada, so news that one of our US Senators, John Ensign, had an extra marital affair is big news. Senator Ensign was a rising star in his party, holding a top leadership post until he resigned it soon after admitting publicly to his affair.

So let me state the obvious – Senator Ensign screwed up. He made a terrible decision that showed tremendous lack of foresight, judgment, and respect for the people of Nevada that trusted him to have the integrity to represent them and advocate for their best interests. The leadership issue here is that he somehow felt exempt from the standards he rightly held others to. Unfortunately, that seems to be a pretty pervasive phenomenon these days.

He needs to hold himself accountable for his behavior, which in my opinion he appears to be doing. And we need to make sure he is held accountable.

Beyond that, we need to forgive the guy and move on to monitoring his job performance. Do good people do bad things? Of course they do. I do, you do, and we all do. Anyone that denies this is a big a hypocrite as Senator Ensign was when we was involved in his affair.

I don’t think the guy should be forced to resign unless we discover a broader pattern of bad judgment and behavior on his part. But the citizens of Nevada should give serious consideration to whether or not they want this guy to be a role model for leadership when he comes up for re-election.

Enough said – for now.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Courage: An example

Ever heard of Paris Welch Romero?

Me neither.

But I just read about her in the Wall Street Journal and thought she was a perfect example of someone with real courage. The link to the article can be found here.

She called out the mortgage mess long before it happened and wrote a letter to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) sounding the alarm. Her concerns fell on deaf ears, both with the OCC and her employer.

Ms. Romero went on questioning loans made to borrowers who could show no income, had lousy credit, or didn't put a nickel down. But she was rebuffed by her employer and eventually laid off. Her comments to the OCC had little impact on
her life. (WSJ article)

She goes on to say that mortgage CEOs "lied". Of course they did. But it took the collusion of a lot of folks with no courage to let them get away with it. People that should have spoken up did not. Yea, I know they were under pressure, just like Ms. Romero, but that is no excuse.

At the end of the article she is quoted as saying: "We have a complicated world structure that we are undermining. We need to impart integrity into our economy," she said.

Our economy won't get integrity until our leaders get integrity.

And our leaders won't get integrity until WE get integrity. We must accept responsibility and hold our leaders and ourselves accountable.

There is no one to blame (Peter Senge).

Give yourself permission

I’ve had several blog posts that reference Tina Seelig’s excellent book What I wish I knew when I was 20. The most recent one was her observation that the primary barriers to success are self-imposed - I strongly concur.

The book is great, and I highly recommend it. If you don’t want to know the punch line, click away now because I am getting ready to share with you the most important thing she wished she knew when she was 20 (ok, so I already gave it away in the title to this post). Here it is:

Give yourself permission to challenge assumptions, to look at the world with fresh eyes, to experiment, to fail, to plot your own course, and to test the limits of your abilities (p. 175).

Wow, let’s all stand up and give Tina a big “HELL YES!”

Over time I’ve become aware that the world is divided into people who wait for others to give them permission to do the things they want to do and people who grant themselves permission. Some look inside themselves for motivation and others wait to be pushed forward by outside forces. From my experience, there’s a lot to be said for seizing opportunities instead of waiting for someone to hand them to you. (p. 57).

Are you waiting for someone to give you permission to pursue a life of excellence and abundance? If so, why would you do that?

Give yourself permission to move beyond your comfort zone, take risks, and go for opportunities. It is never too late to start, but the clock is ticking.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Service-Profit Chain

When I get a chance to do corporate training, I will often ask the group of managers to write their answers to these two questions:

· What is the one thing that should probably be the top priority of most businesses? Put another way, what matters the most to a business – to your business?
· How do you get or accomplish what matters most? Put another way, if you are the owner or manager of a business, what is the most important thing you should be doing on a daily basis to accomplish your top priority?

Do you think all managers in the room write the same thing? No way. One of the obvious implications is that they are not on the same page at work.

I get a variety of answers to the question “what matters most?” The first thing most groups mention is profit. Some of the other common responses are customer service, quality products, and employee morale. But I rarely hear the answer I am looking for- growth. (By growth I mean growth through excellence and not growth through acquisition.)

If money does not hit the top line, it will NEVER hit the bottom line.

You can take that to the bank. Too many managers are managers of costs, the line items, and they forget the one line that matters the most – the TOP line.

I saw the service-profit chain years ago and immediately bought into its logic. Please understand this is not a “universal law” that applies in all industries all the time (e.g. airlines, WalMart), but for many businesses, especially small business, it does apply very well. Here is how the logic flows:

· The priority of a business should be growth through excellence.
· The key to growth is loyal customers. If we don’t have customers, we don’t have revenue. It’s MUCH less expensive to keep an existing customer than to get a new one.
· The key to customer loyalty is customer satisfaction. Satisfied customers are those whose expectations have been met. But a strategy of customer satisfaction is competitive mediocrity because a simply satisfied customer is indifferent – they are open to being retrained by our competition about what to expect. Instead we want to strive to exceed our customers’ expectations – impress their socks off and delight them. That is competitive excellence, and it does not happen by chance but by purposeful design.
· It is our employees that impress or disgust our customers – not us as managers. We can’t get employees to impress your customers by policy alone.
· If we are constantly turning over employees, we are barely in a position to satisfy our customers, let alone impress them.
· Satisfied and committed employees are more likely to stay with us. These employees are in the best position to impress our customers.
· Internal service quality – meeting and exceeding the expectations of our employees – is the key to ensuring they are satisfied and committed. It is sheer folly to think that employees that are disgusted with us will then go out and impress our customers. Only delighted employees produce delighted customers.
· The key to internal service quality is not policy but system design. As managers, we experiment with the systems we control – hiring, training, rewards, job design, etc – for the purpose of improving employee attitudes.

So, what is the number one thing we need to do on a daily basis if we want to grow our business?

Take care of and impress our employees.

And we expect this to work its way through better employee attitudes, retained employees, delighted customers, loyal customers, higher revenues, and healthier profits.

Because I believe so strongly in the logic of the service-profit chain, it suggests that I should practice a very specific style of leadership. Stay tuned, I’ll talk more about that in future posts.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The primary barriers to success are self-imposed.

The title of this post is a quote from Tina Selig’s book What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 (p.67). I like this book, so much so that I am going to make it one of the required readings for a new course I am developing on Entrepreneurial Psychology. I included a quote from Tina’s book in my previous blog post on quitting your job.

I strongly agree that most of the barriers to abundant living, however you define abundance, are between our ears. We are capable of doing incredible things once we decide we want to do them. That doesn’t mean that we won’t experience resistance, failure, and pain along the way, but real excellence can only be experienced once we decide to do something different, something other people are not willing to do. Excellence is a form of purposeful deviance.

Tina goes on to say this:

If you want a leadership role, then take on leadership roles. Just give yourself permission to do so. Look around for holes in your organization, ask for what you want, find ways to leverage your skills and experiences, be willing to make the first move, and stretch beyond what you’ve done before. There are always opportunities waiting to be exploited. Instead of waiting to be asked and tiptoeing around an opportunity, seize it. It takes hard work, energy, and drive – but these are the assets that set leaders apart from those who wait for others to anoint them. (p.70)

Do this because it is the right thing to do, both for yourself and for those around you; however, don’t expect all around to stand and applaud. Be prepared for many of those around you to discourage you. But don’t use any of this an excuse to wrap yourself in the safety and comfort of conformity and mediocrity.

Press on.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Entitlement vs. Responsibility

I hear a lot these days about the so called millennial generation, young people born between 1980 and 2000. In our workplaces, that would be the folks under 30. There are a lot of people out there claiming expertise on how to market to and manage millennials. The assumption is that this group is fundamentally and even radically different than everyone else. In my professional opinion, the hype far exceeds the scientific evidence, but that’s nothing new.

Entitled is one of the most common terms I hear used to describe these young folks. To be honest, I’ve used it myself to describe an attitude I see amongst my students. A fair number of them want all of the rewards but as little as possible of the accountability for effort and performance that comes with the rewards.

But I’m not sure there is much new under the sun here. I’m sure I had a pretty similar attitude when I was 22, which is one reason why I flunked out of Oklahoma State University the first time around. And is anyone familiar with the parable of the Prodigal Son?

And in all fairness, I continue to meet some of the most brilliant, impressive, and inspiring young people I have ever met in my life. It is an honor to spend time with them and to have the opportunity to shape their thinking on things that really matter (e.g. leadership).

I like to contrast the rhetoric of entitlement with the rhetoric of responsibility.

Entitlement comes from an attitude of “don’t you know who I am?” It is inherently egocentric because it begins by making sure that others know who you are and what you are entitled to. Once others recognize who you are, then you are free to “name and claim” your proper privileges and rewards.

The rhetoric of entitlement sounds like this: “I am an adult, so you need to treat me like one.” Some of the implicit ideas that follow are “I can do what I want to do,” “You need to do what I want you to do,” "You need to engage me," and “I’m the boss, you are not.”

In contrast, responsibility begins with the assumption that “you will know who I am when you see what I do.” It begins and ends with a drive to do the right thing and has little concern for title or status. It is inherently purposeful rather than egocentric.

The rhetoric of responsibility sounds like this: “I will do what needs to be done because it is the right thing to do.” The implicit ideas that follows are “judge me on the merits of my behavior,” and "I will engage with you."

When you behave consistent with the rhetoric of responsibility, people come to the correct conclusions:

You are an adult.

You are a leader.

Don't tell me who you are and what you think you deserve - show me.