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Daily Dairy from Contented Cows

Memphis: 12/20/16 4:48P 

People the world over are watching intently as a new U.S. presidential administration goes through its staffing up process, taking notes and names as to who’s in, who’s out, who’s on the fence, what the relative merits of each candidate are, who’s calling the ball, the list goes on. One can only hope that the behind-the-scenes process used to vet and select candidates is as serious as the reporting of it. While all this goes on, thousands of other jobs, real jobs, regular jobs are being filled, quietly, without the hoopla, and, dare I say in too many cases, without much thought or preparation.

Thirty-five years ago this week, when I was a young middle manager at a nascent FedEx, my boss flew to New York for exactly two reasons: 1) To go Christmas shopping with his wife, and 2) To do a little coaching with me. Though the time-split between those two objectives was about 90/10 in favor of shopping, both purposes were well served. On the premise that you’re more interested in your holiday shopping than his, let’s talk about the second item.

One afternoon as we were riding across town in a limo, he initiated his coaching by saying something to the effect of, “You seem to be a pretty driven, bright, young guy who, when he weighs in on a topic is right more often than not. The question is, why do you have to be so damn right?

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Know how I can tell? Because no one in the corporate world wants to talk about, think about, or do much of anything until "after the first of the year."

But I'm also reminded of the following reference from “A Christmas Carol”, by Charles Dickens: "You'll want all day to-morrow, I suppose," said Scrooge. The clerk [Bob Cratchit] observed that it was only once a year. "A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every 25th of December!" said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. "But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning."

Now I love the holidays as much as the next guy, maybe more, but let's be reasonable. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's occupy only three days on the calendar, and Hanukkah only eight, and yet it sometimes seems that many non-retail organizations start closing down the store on the third Monday in November and don't come fully back to life again until the Twelfth drummer quits drumming - a span of about 7 weeks.

Can your business afford to run on only one or two cylinders for 14% of the year? If not, consider what successful leaders do to celebrate the holidays, productively, without coming off like Ebenezer Scrooge.

A Few Words on Workplace Feedback for Millennials

by Bill Catlette: Friday Nov. 18, 2016, 11AM

Over the last few years I’ve had the pleasure of providing professional coaching for a diverse group of a dozen or so Millennial professionals, managers, and executives in the workspace. Though it is a disparate group other than the age cohort, we’ve individually uncovered and worked on a fairly short list of remarkably common performance enhancers. Providing and Receiving Feedback has been a nearly unanimous item of interest. If this group is representative of the broader cohort, and I think it is, it stands to reason that sharing some of our learnings in this area might be of interest to a wider audience, certainly to include other generational cohorts. Here goes.

If you occupy a professional or managerial role, part of your job (often a significant part) is to provide feedback to others… Feedback pertaining to processes, performance, projects, et. al. And, at your stage of growth and maturation in the employment strata, you should also be on the receiving end of quite a bit of performance feedback. If not, you should worry, a lot, because people who aren’t being actively coached are being ill-served by the organization.

Giving Feedback: Giving feedback in the workspace is tough. We’ve not been especially well trained to do it, it’s not usually in our sweet spot, we haven’t witnessed many good examples, and the receivers of our well-intentioned efforts aren’t always cordial or interested. A few thoughts:

by Bill Catlette 11/14/16 12:00N

Popular vote totals suggest that less than half of us got what we wanted by way of the 2016 presidential election in the U.S. Indeed, many had been, as Tom Brokaw said just prior to the election, “curled up in the fetal position saying, ‘get it over with’”, while hoping and praying to avoid getting that which would infuriate, or scare the bejesus out of us.

Well, we got it, and are now destined to get one of those rare chances in a constitutional democracy to find out both what our newly elected president is made of, and perhaps more importantly, what We the People are made of. The big question is, are we (you and I) going to remain on opposite corners of the porch, snarling and barking at one another and passers by, or are we going to get off our butts, leave the parties, socio-economic cohorts and identity labels behind, and act like adult Americans, people who actually have a community of interest again? Alone within the quiet recesses of our being, each of us gets to choose (no, must choose) what sort of American, what sort of person we want to be going forward, and what our fellow countrymen have a right to expect from us. Make no mistake, for as long as we’re doing the “one nation under God thing”, we’re all in this together… drinking from the same water fountain. We’re not squatters here, though. We own the place, and it’s time for us to start acting like it.

A venerable old institution in my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida has just announced that after 48 years, it's shutting its doors for good. The University Club, a traditional (and I do mean traditional) private city club, or what's sometimes called a fine dining or business club (think heavy oak carpentry, dry martinis, and waiters in black tie) is going the way of the Walkman. Why? Bad food? No - it was amazing. Bad service - wrong again. And talk about atmosphere! The floor-to-ceiling windows offered killer riverfront views of this beautiful city. (Please don't judge us by our football team.)

Then why'd it die? Simple. People don't join things like they used to. I didn't say they don't join things at all. Just not like they used to. They don't join country clubs, civic clubs, health clubs, churches, political parties, or Greek societies at the rates they once did. Oh, of course people still play golf, socialize, exercise, attend worship services, vote, and party in college. But more and more, they engage in these activities on their own terms, without feeling compelled to make a commitment to an organized entity that provides these opportunities.

And they're probably not going to get particularly excited about joining your company. They may want to do great stuff, work with an inspiring leader, make a difference, even earn some cash - but joining a particular organization? Meh...

As a road warrior for my entire professional life, I’ve logged some serious time in hotels. I sent the folks at Marriott a friendly tweet recently… “@Marriott - We hit a milestone this week, sleeping together for the 750th time. Don’t worry, my wife knows. Seriously, keep up the great work!” My business partner, Richard Hadden keeps an even busier travel schedule, and we also do some consulting in the industry, so it’s not unusual that we’re occasionally asked about current or anticipated employment issues affecting the hospitality workspace. Indeed, we were asked that exact question recently, with regard to our outlook for the year 2017, which is just around the corner. As so much of it also pertains to any business operating in a labor-intensive service industry, it only makes sense to share some of that thinking for the use of others.

Excepting known domestic (U.S.) items that have carried over from prior years and are likely to remain on the table for some time, e.g., healthcare, contractor status, and overtime pay laws, I’ve taken a stab at identifying a short list of key workforce issues and opportunities that have already or will present to hotel industry executives in 2017. Here they are, in no particular order:

Having seen example after example of the “power of the carrot” I have long maintained that organizations large and small should be careful, very careful what they incentivize people to do, because it will absolutely, positively drive behavior… in every one of us. We’ve seen it on a super-sized scale in the healthcare fee-for-service model, where providers ring the register thru unnecessary and duplicative procedures, and now in banking (again!) even after the near meltdown of the global financial system in 2007-8.

In a story reported by CNN, Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced that Wells Fargo Bank employees had “secretly opened unauthorized accounts to hit sales targets and receive bonuses."  According to the CNN piece, this was no minor caper, with over 1 million bogus bank and credit card accounts opened, and about 5300 Wells Fargo employees terminated for their role. 5300 people!

So, what if anything can the rest of us do to prevent or at least minimize such behavior in our own businesses? Several things come to mind, but the first is, don’t over-react and become averse to incentives in general, but do be very thoughtful about how you structure and implement them. A few thoughts:

Spurred by incessant jousting over whether one of the U.S. presidential candidates might be “hardening or softening” their position on immigration policy, I thought recently about an altogether different arena, the workspace, and the evolution of management style that many of us find ourselves in the midst of, as we journey between a top-down command and control style (hard), and a more collegial and inclusive (softer) style. Regardless of where one is on that transition curve, and your direction of travel, there are still some universal precepts, ‘iron laws’ if you will, that bear adherence. Based on some of the conversations that have cropped up of late in my coaching practice, here are three that bear mentioning:

Good leaders say “no”… a lot

Two of the biggest things I see leaders at all levels struggling with are, 1) dealing with the enormous daily pile of incoming, be it text, voice, or anxious faces standing in the doorway, and 2) the urge to be “in” on every meeting, relationship, and decision.

Who among us would keep seeing a dentist who was lousy at administering anesthesia? Or would knowingly board an airplane piloted by someone who'd never really learned to fly? I think I know the answer.

So why, then, do so many of us tolerate people in management positions who have demonstrated a remarkable ineptitude for leading people?

A strange and curious pattern has developed in many organizations, and it looks like this:

1. Promote someone who is good at what they do to a position of leadership, without regard to their ability to perform in a leadership capacity.
2. Evaluate them primarily on their ability to episodically bring in short-term results, and only secondarily, if at all, on their ability to lead people.
3. If it becomes apparent that they have failed in their leadership role, continue to tolerate them (and in many cases, promote them) in spite of their demonstrated incompetence in a core function of the role.

And we wonder why one of the chief complaints in Employee Engagement surveys is expressed as "Lack of management credibility."

Earlier this week, I spent about a half an hour trapped, by myself, in an elevator that I've traveled 27 floors up, and down, an average of twice a week every week for the past 25 years. That I so regularly frequent this conveyance at all is slightly amazing, given that I'm a moderately afflicted claustrophobe.

OK, I'll admit it. I panicked. A little. But not a lot. After calling for help, at long last the elevator came to a gentle rest on the ground floor, and the doors opened onto a lobby that had never looked so appealing to me as it did in that moment.

What a great experience! Although my autonomic nervous system would have argued at the time, and for a day or two afterward.

Focusing on the "great" part, here's what I learned:

By Richard Hadden, with Eric Yarham

Let's start with this: I am not, like some members of my generation, a Pokémon Go hater.

In fact, I've played it. And I think it's kinda cool. There are many things worse than moving off the couch, breathing some fresh air, and discovering places in your community you didn't know existed. A library in my area has seen an uptick in visits from teens since the game's launch. I think that's cool, too.

But while playing, I couldn't escape the comparisons between Pokémon hunting and the search for talent at work, both when it's done well, and when it's bungled...

For nearly three years, CEO’s (and other C-suite occupants) have been voicing mounting concern about the length and strength (or lack thereof) of their leadership bench. Following are a few thoughts about the underlying causes of those concerns, and what can be done about them.


1. Lack of developmental opportunity / assistance - They are on the bench (for now), but not in the game. You’ve invested neither time nor interest in them. There have been few, if any serious progress and career-pathing discussions, let alone follow-on action, leading to the conclusion that you don’t care, or that they don’t matter.
2. A fish out of water - They don’t fit the organization culturally. In many cases, they’ve been aware of it for some time, perhaps since their first week, and are only now working thru the denial, and/or the need to have a respectably long stay on their resume.

In a recent speech for about sixty undergrad management students, I posed the question: “How many of you either already occupy, or aspire to a professional role as a leader?” Everyone in the room raised a hand. After acknowledging delight in seeing so much interest, I then remarked soberly, “some of you probably need to put your hands back down”, drawing scornful glances from two professors seated in the back row.

I didn’t say it to be mean or dispiriting, but realistic. Being a leader can be a joy, but it isn’t easy. On lots of days, it’s no bargain, and let’s just get this out of the way... As with any other occupation or profession, not everyone is cut out to do it. In fact, when you get right down to it, very few are - not because it requires an abundance of smarts or skill, but because it’s hard, especially on the first few rungs of the ladder, where you have pressure from above and below, the incoming never stops, and you don’t get to call a time-out. It’s a bit like fast-roping your way into an armed conflict without the benefit of training or ammunition.

The long life of an old family friend came to an end last week. More than a generation ago, this fellow was a high-profile public official in my hometown (appointed, not elected). And something of a controversial figure. I was a kid at the height of his notoriety, and I was always struck by the disconnect between the guy I knew (to me, he was just my friends' dad), and the public persona I saw and read about in the news. He seemed like a nice, if somewhat formal guy in a personal context, but he was often vilified in the media as a hard-nosed, dogmatic tyrant. Now, if you've been a regular reader of this blog, our books, or our Fresh Milk newsletter, you'll know that tyranny isn't generally a leadership style we advocate. I never worked for the guy, so I don't know if the word tyrant was an accurate descriptor or not. But I could easily believe he was hard-nosed. And it's well documented that he had high standards.

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