Archive | August 2013

Final Summer-Lite On: Bird Brain

Pretend that I am tweeting in this space.

For those “supposedly smart people” who get in trouble for the content of their tweets, my reaction is:  Why do it?  I am less puzzled by the offensive content than I am by their urge to tweet it…especially for some who actually have thousands of followers.  A professor of psychology was recently censured for tweeting that obese people lack the commitment to get their graduate degrees (because they cannot lose weight).  Prof of psych?!  Bad content is bad enough, but tweeting it is simply colossal, monumental, and beyond-stupid judgment.  Sending email messages to wrong addresses is a genuine “oops.”  Is there an accidental tweet?!

Have an accident-free Labor Day weekend.  Enjoy!  Be back on 9/8.

Till then,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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How To Lose Customers

A few months ago an Asian food market from a major city opened up a small branch in our nearby town.  Its size is about twice that of a typical mini market.  There have been a few kinks in its daily operations, and I encountered the problem of missing price labels a couple of times.  This should not be a thorny problem.  I found the staff’s attempt to “help” unproductive, and a lesson emerged.

An Asian grocery store

An Asian grocery store

The majority of the items at this store are not expensive.  Boxes of tea and bags of dried fruit were some of their “new” items.  They had to check the computer in the office for pricing.  When no information came forth, they had to call the home office in the major city to find out.  I happened to pick up some of these un-priced items.  Each of the incidents took them more than five minutes, with no clear result.  It wasn’t a big deal for me, I didn’t have to have the items, and so I told them not to worry and left.

However, I have a lesson to offer.  They could have easily said to their customers, “We are sorry about the absence of price tags.  I’ll charge you, let’s say, $3…(or whatever amount that seems reasonable).   If we overcharge you, please keep the receipt and we’ll refund you the next time you stop in.  If we undercharge you, it’s on the house.”  Instead, their need to stick to some “policy” meant that they lost a few business transactions, and discouraged customers from coming back.

The on-the-ground staff see this immediately:  A potential repeat customer, the very basis of their business survival, is turned into someone who won’t bother to come back.  This typifies the problem when on-the-ground staff doesn’t have authority to make instant decisions.  Penny wise, pound foolish.  What is it about control that so inevitably clouds minds of people, especially systems-owners?

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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Lists Are Great; Lists Can Be Constraining: It’s all about how we use them.

August signals the end of summer.  People take the last chance for vacation, and the pace of life seems to take a couple of notches down…for some.  So, I will continue my summer-lite writing for light reading.


I live with lists.  I don’t always follow them, but they provide both a compass and a reminder.  Somehow, when it comes to management issues, though, I rail against lists.  The “10 best ideas for…,” or “7 ways to…,” or, “5 lessons or secrets…”  My least favorite is “6 ways to talk like a leader.”  Not so much that there are only “6 ways,” but trumpeting talking “like” a leader smacks of a PR stunt.  Why not actually help people be leaders?

My treasured blog,, by Maria Popova, uses lists a lot.  The author calls them “listicles.”  Funny.  I don’t find the listicles on this site offending, and I think it has a lot to do with the issue of framing.  In the context of creativity, which is a huge focus of “brainpickings”, the lists open doors and windows.  Hopefully, when we read these lists, they give us clues and perhaps keys to further explore within ourselves.

Creative Mornings: Maria Popova on Content Cur...

Creative Mornings: Maria Popova on Content Curation (Photo credit: deanmeyersnet)

In the context of business world, however, I fear lists tend to limit people.  In a stressful and busy work environment, when we see a list, it’s likely that’s all we follow.  It’s a checklist, a list to discharge obligations, not to open more possibilities.  Amazon’s Jeff Bezos famously rejects PowerPoint presentations because people get lazy when they see these bullet points; they miss the nuances.  Instead, whenever an Amazon employee wants to push an idea, Bezos’ policy is “write a narrative.”  This is to help people really focus on what they want to advocate, and how to advance the idea.

Like “categories,” lists have similar effects of constraining people in the business world:  We box in others.  We sometimes box in ourselves too, but usually we want to use the labels on others.   The more unfamiliar we are with the subject, situation, or people, the more we “need” categories and lists.  We think it’s a shortcut to help us to get things moving or done.  And sometimes they are helpful.  But ultimately, categories or lists are only guidelines; they inform.  For instance, Meyers-Briggs’ personality types, introvert-extrovert, intuition-sensing, thinking-feeling, and perception-judging, are interesting to explore and to inform us about ourselves and our colleagues.  Even if this inventory test were perfect – which it is certainly not – it cannot capture all of who we are in a neat 4×2 space.

Finally, management is about understanding and working with relationships.  Dynamics of relationships, be they about duos, or small or large groups, are fluid.  Lists and categories largely capture only snapshots.  I contend that a manager who follows all the lists in the management literature is the worst manager.  A good manager is attuned to nuances, is flexible, and knows when a list is a friend and when it’s binding.  Am I making a list?!

Do you have a favorite list that has inspired you?

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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Sometimes It’s A Lot Easier To Know Why, But A Lot Harder To Know How

Saying management should build “trust” is like saying, “Buy low and sell high.”  It’s a no-brainer…till you try to execute the principle.  Of course, we can always find some amongst the managerial ranks who’d say, “Trust, shmust…I don’t care how you do it, just get it done.  I don’t have the luxury of building trust.”  And indeed, building trust takes a long time, without guaranteed positive outcomes.  Further, any managerial slip, let alone a colossal mishap, could instantly diminish the trust savings account.  I’ve said it many times, and I’ll say it again, and again:  There are no 12-step programs for any management topics, especially concerning relationships.  For a manager to say, “Trust is my number one goal” is akin to saying to a new acquaintance, “I am going to make you trust/like/fall in love with me.”  We can never force a relationship that’s based on mutual feelings.

They've learned to more or less trust each other.

They’ve learned to more or less trust each other.

What then?  While building trust is a reiterative process, a manager can start by asking herself, “What do my people need most from their work environment?”  Promotional opportunities? Funding? Relief from: Crises all the time/Everything is important/Everything needs to be done now? A shirker or two, or whiners, in the unit? Rigid scheduling?  Not only does a manager need to attend to some immediate concerns among his people, he also needs to anticipate obstacles his people may encounter.  Removing some of these obstacles or minimizing their impact may not be glamorous, but is a good foundation for trust.  Sometimes, a manager may need to play Machiavelli where she has to choose between the trade-offs of what’s good for her unit and what serves the long-term health of the larger organization.  This is probably when a manager feels the most lonely since she cannot really confide in others.  More often than not, though, a manager’s candid discussions – on the why’s, the what’s, and the how’s — with her people would go a long way.  Eliminating a meeting or two can produce cheering, but managers shortchange interpersonal interactions at their own peril.

In any iterative processes, it is difficult to decide cause and effect.  For instance, do you build trust first before delegating?  Or, is it by delegating – and truly letting people decide on their own – that a manager begins to win trust?  I contend that the onerous responsibilities should always lie with the manager.  To put it crudely, managers need to earn their higher salary.  However, managers do not need to act as if they know everything.  Occasionally saying, “I don’t know,” followed by “but I’ll find out” can be empowering for all parties.

Common sense?  Maybe.  Most commonsense principles are socially constructed reality.  What I consider basic decency in allowing a staff member to pick up a sick child mid-morning, another manager may view as a disruption or even policy violation that needs to be put on record.  A manager can start some thoughtful conversations on such topics with her people, and thus begin the process of building trust.

What’s your experience?

Till next time, keep on building that precious foundation of trust.

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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