Donny and Carly

When I was growing up, my Dad was fond of saying ‘the business of America is business’. I think he got the quote from the head of General Motors, Charlie Wilson. No matter, it’s a great quote.

But, how long has it been since you heard a candidate for elective office say something like that?

Lost in all the hoohaa about Trump and, to a lesser extent Fiorina, is that they’re the first serious candidates coming out of the business community in some time, probably since Ross Perot. Let’s hope that Trump is more flexible in his outlook that Ross was. So far, so good.

The business of America is getting out of the way of business, not hampering it with new regulations, such as those coming from the EPA or the NLRB. Besides, who employs all those Democrats? They don’t all work for the government at various levels or academia.

Immigration law should support American business, which is to say a free flow of labor from wherever. We need all levels, but we need to know who they are and where they’re going. If they’re here illegally, tell them to get in line and start over, pay a nominal fine and get something like a provisional green card.

Reparations from abroad.? Get rid of the tax. However, companies should have a reinvestment clause…..either invest in something or give it back to the shareholders through more stock. Are you listening Apple?

Anyway, these are just some initial thoughts for the dynamic duo.

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An Intense Workplace Doesn’t Have to Be Cruel

This was a great title whose text didn’t quite live up to the title.

And, it was reinforced by the recently reported problems that Jeff Bezos is having with his Amazon culture….apparently some people who work for him are being less than nice to their direct reports.

And, there was the case of the two lady Rangers being helped by a male during a tough phase of training. And, aside from SEAL BUDs training, there’s not much that is harder than Ranger training. Or more intense.

What it comes down to is the fact that your people are the translators of your culture, and they mostly derive how they translate the culture from their bosses. All the way to the top.

So, if some of Bezos’ underlings are yelling at their people, they got it from somewhere, and no one should be surprised. Except the business press, that is.

You can get your points across without yelling….yelling betrays to me a certain sense of insecurity. And this insecurity must be at the root of the Amazon culture.

So, Jeff, you better hit the chill button and find out why people in your organization are yelling at each other.

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Company Culture

In two of our recent Solutions Forum meetings, we’ve had CEOs talk about culture, and how to improve it.

When I started with researching the topic, I went first to our SF website, because it has a couple of articles, the most recent of which is 2012, which isn’t much help, because with the explosing of rapidly growing tech companies, it’s an item the founder needs to think about as he/she sails past 25 or so employees, but rarely does.

It also comes up as one generation of family transitions to another: the younger generation is likely to make the culture more aggressive than his/her forbears (I did, and one of my member’s son is, but one isn’t, at least not yet.).

The article I found has some good points, but is pretty sketchy.

1. Cultures change when Leaders Show That They Want Then to Change.

This is important. How does a leader do this? Hiring and firing decsions for one. Just because someone has been employed at your company for 10 or 20 years doesn’t mean they’ll be there for the next five. You have to take the temperature of your direct reporting managers/directors/vice presidents and evaluate for yourself if they’re on board. What would positive actions look like? This is a conversation you should have after your 90-day onboarding time, other than there may be a few obvious direct reports that should be replaced.

2. Results begin immediately. What can/should you do right away? A town hall on Friday afternoon is a good start. Awards and recognition for jobs well done are another good idea. People will get the idea that you’re creating an ‘accountability’ performance culture, not a ‘don’t rock the boat’ culture.

3. The larger the organization, the longer it might take, but it depends on the leader. Both of my clients wanting to change culture are about 150 employees, and the chart says two years. I’d say one. I am always reminded of Alan Mullaly, of Ford, who changed that elephant’s culture in two years by a few judicious hires/fires and a completely new employee/manager evaluation system that stressed innovation, accountability and so forth.

4. In your annual/quarterly meetings with your direct reports, ask them how they made money for the company, and was it more than the prior quarter? This was a favorite question of a former client (former only because he moved to San Jose, where we didn’t have a licensee). He would have made a good one.

5. Encourage opportunistic employees. I once had once dive into a truck to copy a distributor’s name from a box. He got an award. Encourage employees to start entrepreneurial activities. Fold ‘em in, maybe sell ‘em later.

Well, there are some starters. Think on what you could do next week.

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Your Customers Will Tell You About Good Customer Service

This was a great title of a blogpost by Shep Hyken (good resume, but he’s never been to Phoenix, as far as I know) that didn’t quite live up to the title, but a post of customer service is always a good thing, because not everyone does it well, or sometimes even evenly, so here are some the definitions that were used, which are pretty good if you wade through them:

1. Al Hooper, another blogger, defined it as “the assistance and advice provided by a company to those people who buy or use its products or services”. Yes, widely used in marketing textbooks no doubt, but sort of transactional, Al. Al does go on to say that great customer service is a differentiator for commoditized products or services, which we agree.

2. Retail Wire said it’s ‘not having to ask someone for help’. Really? In this era of online shopping, and reduced store and physical stock presence, asking for help is nearly a given. Your people should be perceptive enough to spot someone who seems to be having a hard time finding something. The first merchant who does that online, maybe through lack of activity after logging on, will have something that’s a real differentiator.

Shep goes on to cite several other, rather transactional definitions by such worthies as Meghan Norris, Corporate Dynamics, Lisa Catalano and Jack Dillon Dillon got closest to our definition, which we use in our courses, which is being served to meet my expectations. How about being served to exceed one’s expectations, Jack?

And, as we say in the title, the customers will tell you if your service is meeting, or exceeding their expectations.

A survey of whether customers were well or poorly or averagely served, after the transaction is done, if a good thing, regardless of whether it’s physical or online service. I will say that most online merchants do an after-transaction survey.

If you

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Trump on Business

Lost in all the media commotion of whether the Donald is going to run (which he is) and whether he’ll be around at the end (he will) at the convention, is what he might do to help the business community, which should be considerable. Reversing eight years of the Obamaites should be a founding principle.

The Donald and I went to Wharton in the late 1960s, and he hasn’t changed much.

But, here are some solid ideas:

1. Cut corporate tax rates in the US and abroad to around 25%.  If you create more jobs, you get a break. Anybody remember workfare?

2. Abolish the tax on rebating the 2 trillion or whatever that’s sitting abroad. I assume it’s been earned reasonably honestly. Tell the companies it would be better if they created some jobs in foreign countries or bought a few companies (are you listening Apple?) to get the level down to what’s needed for general working capital. Donald is off base on criticizing the Ford plant in Mexico….they’re doing it because of lower labor costs and generally less intereference in their management by the South American countries. The market is booming.

3. Get rid of stupid corporate rules, such as most of the ones the EPA and the NLRB issue. I think most corporations are good corporate citizens, and will do the right thing if given a chance. Let the marketplace decide what needs to be done, as in autos.

4. Zero base budget all social programs, and probably even the Defense Department. What outcomes do they produce? What else could be done? The VA is a classic example, since it overlaps the civilian heathcare system. I’m a vet, and I’ve never used VA (I live too far from a hospital). Needless to say, Obamacare goes away, but maybe there are elements of it (portability, guaranteed issue) that should be kept. Put the bureaucrats on workfare.

5. As your henchperson, make Carly Fiorina to be your Vice President. She’s more than capable, but she’s foundering in the Republican kerfuffle. She becomes the Hilary Attack Dog, a role she will relish. This will be popular with all the women in the audience.

So, those are some opening thoughts on how to keep things going.

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Workplace Democracy Gets Ambushed

I was watching Gunslingers last night on the AHC, and it seems that Wild Bill Hickock has been reincarnated as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The title comes from the Wall Street Journal, which has outlined the latest ambush on employer labor practices  by the NLRB. Now, back in the day, I twice defeated union organizing drives, but this latest practice, which requires companies to give what would be private employee information to unions, is just another thorn in our side, and probably illegal.

And, if you’re in an organizing drive, and you do a ‘Statement of Position’, you’re not allowed to amend it without showing ‘good cause’ which I’m sure the union doing the organizing would challenge.

There are also some other provisions of the diktat that are oneous, but your blood pressure might have already spiked in reading the prior words, so we’ll close.

We would recommend, if you’ve had organizing drives, that you consult your friendly labor lawyer and get his/her take. If you’re prominent in your community, you should also have that conversation, or if you’ve had a problem employee (who might try to organize you).

Hang in there for the next 18 months or so, when sanity will be restored

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How Senior Leaders Can Connect with Front Line Workers

This was the title of an October 14th, 2014 article in Smart Briefs, and I thought it deserved both some comment and wider distribution.

Here are the methods:

1. Distributed leadership. Push leadership down through your company to your direct reports, and they to theirs, but don’t forget to ‘manage by wandering around’. We’ve noticed among our clients that this is an important CEO attribute. If Alan Mullaly, the retired head of Ford can do it about once a month on an unannounced basis, you can too.

2. Make it safe to share. Solicit all kinds of feedback, positive and negative, and have employees understand that there won’t be reprisals for negative feedback. Keep the tone respectful in the exchanges.

3. Meet employees where they are. This is ‘management by walking around’, the famous Tom Peters phrase. Employee open houses are a good idea, but not in the executive area or floor, because they’ll feel threatened. Make it a neutral space, such as a break room.

4. Be flexible about the forum. If you’re an introvert, get outside your comfort zone for a bit. Meet wherever the employees feel most comfortable. Make it like ‘ask me anythng’.

5. Make room for impromptu encounters. Unscheduled, unscripted chats can do as much or more than scripted ones.

6. Ask good questions of those asking you questions. Don’t make the questions snarky, which might prove counterproductive. Explore what the asker has on his/her mind.

If you’re not doing all of these things, get with it. You’re sacrificing the culture of the company that you want. Or, just maybe you get the culture you want if you don’t do these things.

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Put a Dollar Value on Your Time

The Wall Street Journal is getting more like Entrepreneur every day, but since their circulation dwarfs all the other business rags, it’s good to see them doing articles that help small business entrepreneurs.

The thrust of this article is to farm out to outside vendors tasks that you could do yourself, thereby freeing yourself up to bill more hours.

For example, if you take your monthly income, say $10.000 and divide it by the number of hours worked, which we’ll assume is 100, then your income is $100.00 per hour.

So, if you can hire an invoicing clerk for $25 an hour, she/he should do all your invoicing. Same thing with QuickBooks… can farm out your accounting.

You might use a laundry service, rather than doing the pickup and delivery at your local shop. Unless you know the owner and you can talk over any business challenges that he has (our situation).  You might hire a housecleaner and a poolcleaner, too, for similar reasons.

As you might expect, there’s a website to help you work through all this: They need a mobile app, although their courses can be downloaded to a mobile phone. Titles They probably need an 800 line for immediate handholding.

So, that’s it. Put the calculations to work and use your time more wisely.

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How Not to Treat Departing Employees

This post was inspired by my younger son, who is transitioning out of his job with one company and going out on his own in a profession.

What’s interesting about the process is the shabby manner in which his former employer has treated a formerly valued employee, who is training his replacement, at half pay and less than half benefits (more about that later).

There’s a reason that employees leave, which isn’t always about money, although in his case, he’ll probably make more as an independent contractor than he did working for his last employer.

Some thoughts:

1. Figure out why someone is leaving and what can be done about it. In my son’s case, he wants to spend more time with his two small children, which he can do if not chained to a desk. So, figure out a package that would be more flexible. Allow outside consulting, as long as it doesn’t conflict with the employer.

2. Do we want to retain this person? Is his/her work good? If so, what does it take to keep him/her? In my son’s case, he probably wouldn’t mind working half time.

3. Related to number 2 above, it’s interesting that all three of his former employers have sounded him out on project work. They value him. I listened to him negotiate a deal with one of them during a trip we were making to Home Depot. Impressive.

4. If the former employers had thought about it, they’d have realized that as a family, he and his wife make excellent money (she’s a successful real estate agent) and they live frugally, aside from a new house that they bought because they outgrew the old one. They also have a thriving rental property portfolio.

5. Don’t chintz on benefits; if one is working half time, then the benefits should be half time. Medical care is important. Instead, in my son’s case, the revised benefits package he estimates is 6% of the old one. They’d probably pay for full benefits, but 6% is just insulting.

6. Do an exit interview if you want to keep someone (you have a lot invested in them), figure out what it takes to keep them, and then put it in place.

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The Business Case for Immigration

Immigration has been much in the news recently, and I thought we should restate what our policy is (it hasn’t changed since Tomas Leon and I hatched it up over lunch about 5 years ago):

1. We have a different take on securing the border. We probably need people to work, given the low unemployment rate, if it can be believed (that’s the topic for another blog). Hispanic folks want to come here, probably in fewer numbers than five years ago, but they still come.

2.  As Brad Thor said, we can build a fence in a weekend from California to Texas. But, what we should do is put entry points in the fence every 10 miles or so. We do entry points in Canada, but not really on the Southern border.

3. When Hispanics (or anyone else) presents themselves for admission to the US, we should know who they really are, check identification, what their skill is, and where they are going. All this data goes into an all source ICE database, integrated with the one that they already have on immigrants.

4. All immigrants are required to check in with ICE every four months or so, to see if they’re doing what they’re supposed to, and how they’re coming on becoming an American citizen. We can grant them a provisional green card at the border, with a six month expiration date on it. So, they have to check in somewhere with ICE. If they don’t, they’re subject to deportation.

5. On deportation, if they commit even one crime, they’re going to be deported, or at least held in a jail  until their court hearing comes up. They could be released on bail, but only if they appear to be of otherwise good character. None of this nonsense about having five felonies and still walking around.

6 . No sanctuary cities. Why were these created in the first place? Their mere existence seems counter to a sound immigration policy. I know San Francisco is out there, even for the Left Coast, but really guys and gals.

OK, ACLU, take your best shot at this. Let’s get a dialogue going.


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