It has been an interesting year for me – a learning year. To be honest I started off last year full of confidence in what I knew and how I planned to impact clients in a positive manner. Since then it has been an interesting ride as I have survived an onslaught of a gang of brutal facts.
It is said, one of the greatest tragedies in life is the murder of a beautiful theory by a gang of brutal facts. We truly do hold strong and fast to our way of thinking – human beings do not like change a whole lot. But, while the resulting growth is beautiful, the attack is intensely painful. My mentor once taught me companies fit into one of 3 levels of performance – 1) Doing more with less, 2) Doing things differently and 3) Doing different things. So lets look at the brutal gang of facts through the perspective of the first level of performance.
I find it hard to believe that Jamie Dimon is a genius – although I think a lot of his capabilities. But, surely if there is a billion dollars worth of fat laying around then someone else had to have noticed it. It is probably over-the-top to assume it was intentionally ignored but what is probably more accurate is the existence of a beautiful theory held onto tightly by a great many people. Someone was doing the best they could with what they had. Someone was making the very best decisions available to them at that point in time. And one would probably have had a hell of a fight on their hands to contradict those theories.
But in walks “the gang” to upset the apple-cart. The “more” part of more with less is not exactly what we imagined it would be. The changes we thought we needed were not necessarily the “pill” we asked the good doctor to prescribe. The “facts” present themselves as contradictory to our way of thinking as light to darkness.
If we allow this light in, the growth we experience and the lessons we learn can and will far exceed those old trivial goals of progress originally intended. Moreover, a new paradigm of performance can be achieved and what we may have thought impossible at one time, is suddenly in our reach.
Bring it on!
In the year 2000, then Bank One posted $511 million in net losses as they hired Jamie Dimon to take over the reigns. Over the next 6 months Jamie Dimon cut $500 million in costs ($1 billion in his first year) in what was called “waste reduction efforts”. Can you imagine the comments when he announced his plan of action? I am sure he was called chicken-little, over-reacting and the other packaged responses typically used by those who lack action. Dimon pushed profit and loss reporting and analysis down through the organization to increase the understanding and change the management approach at all levels. He changed compensation structures to more appropriately align leadership decision-making with results. He walked away from non-profitable customers and even told long-time sacred cows to pay for their own Wall Street Journal. Many said he was the wrong guy for the job and was a prolific deal maker but that was the limitation of his talent. Boy were they wrong (remember, this is the guy that proactively and independently gave himself a 93% pay cut when heÂ accepted the bailout funds). Hindsight is most interesting if we chose to view the past with objective lenses.
Stage 1: Define the strategy. Dimon could have asked for a 6 month analysis of where they could cut the “fat” or “waste”. Dimon could have sent out RFP’s to consulting companies for 6 months deciding which consulting company would execute a project to find the “fat” or “waste”. He could have then followed that up with a series of SWOT analysis on alternatives surrounding “how” to cut the fat. It could have taken 2 years. He knew there was inefficiency. He knew the inefficiency was fat and he knew he could get rid of it.Â Not everyoneÂ agreed – but he knew it.Â Go after the fat that you know exist and simply get rid of it.Â The developer that is counter-productive.Â The great developer that is ambivalent to estimation accuracy.Â The process rich with churn and low in productivity.Â If you know where it is – make a plan to go get it.
Stage 2:Â Just Do It!Â Imagine a “waste reduction” that will save the organization $10 thousand dollars a day.Â Now, urgency ought not be confused with recklessness or panic.Â But, delaying that gain by 2 weeks just cost the company $100 thousand dollars – the cost of indecision.Â Was the risk mitigated by the analysisÂ equivalent to $100 thousand dollar exposure?Â Fear and hope are not proper leadership strategies and if you know it – just do it.
Some people see inefficiencies as a part of their core vision.Â They are just wired that way.Â It reminds me of theÂ Matrix – they just “see it”.Â Obviously, all aspects of a process and impacts must be taken into proper consideration in order to mitigate risk.Â But sometimes “fat” or “waste” is relatively obvious.Â In consulting, did we not call that “low hanging fruit”?
The last time I checked, I think Gartner still indicates only 40% of all code actually makes it to production; only 40% of every IT dollar spent actually realizes ROI.Â There is enough inherent “waste” in our business – go after the “low hanging fruit” and increase your own individual numbers.
Working in the lawn this weekend I purchased some of the new (or at least new to me) instant, grow anywhere grass … patch … thingy. I have seen these things grow grass on concrete (marketing – GOT ME!). I literally laughed out loud when I remembered sitting in a meeting years and years ago – but more about that later.
I thought of the absolutely rich environment that must exist in that bag. The potential is stored in the bag and maintained such that when you pour the contents – anywhere – it grows. Wow! Perfect for someone like me who is – horticulturally challenged.
Now back to the meeting. This company had a time honored tradition of ideas presented to a committee in a meeting ironically titled the “Elephant Gun Meeting”. Conceptually, one would present their ideas and the committee would put the idea through the paces and if it – survived the shooting – they would pursue the idea. I am a metrics guy so I asked the percentage of presentations moved through to next steps. The answer was unknown but one member remembered an idea that “made it through” a couple of years before that meeting (I really don’t make this stuff up).
What kind of nutrients are stored in your bag? Can your ideas grow on concrete? Is your environment that rich with ideas and risk taking that ideas simply grow in all departments and in all circumstances? We all know the shades and sunny spots that occur in business; the rain and floods that come. The huge, seemingly immovable competitors that take aim at your market share. The new, quick and nimble competitors that crop up like weeds in your front yard. The M&A activity that makes many strategies a moving target. There are always many reasons to squelch and shot ideas full of holes.
The is only one reason your ideas are a rich green with deep roots that grow all over – because you create that kind of environment.
Back to the lawn …
What are the most important keys to success in your organization?
I was in a discussion with a few colleagues surrounding the hierarchy of key performance indicators and someone introduced the KPI’s of culture. In this Six Sigma, management by metrics era we live in – one does not think of the KPI’s of culture. But, as my statistics professor used to say, just because you do not interpret the statistics does not mean they do not have meaning (if a tree falls …).
So lets try on a few just to hear the tree fall. Average length of tenure. If the average length of tenure is high it could mean a high degree of loyalty [great!]. It could mean a low degree of experience [1 year 10 times versus 10 years – bad!]. It could very well mean corporate leadership and HR are doing a fantastic job on the retain portion of “attract and retain” great talent [good!]. Or, it could mean leadership is resistant to change, prune or improve [GE bottom 10% – bad!].
And how about average training hours per employee per year? If this number is low it could mean people are repeating the same efforts over and over and expecting different results. It could be an indication that some much needed outside training and experience could increase the overall competency of the department or organization.
There are a number of weird and interesting data points that could really provide objective non-biased insight into the true culture of the organization as opposed to the stated culture of the organization – number of internal emails versus number of external emails, number of BCC emails, percentage of clients who answer feedback questionnaires, etc.Â If you really want to look into the mirror, a quick analysis of numbers could provide the evidence-based answers you are looking for.Â But be careful, many a man has stared into the abyss and left wanting!
Some great quotes from Seth Godin (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/) are circulating on the web and one in particular struck me surrounding the room that great people need to become remarkable.
I was discussing the characteristics of “greatness” with a CEO last night and the two concepts collided as a reminder to me the importance of harvesting intellectual horsepower.
He shared with me his thoughts on the “strive for greatness” as something that could not be contained or isolated into a singular area. That the desire to be great makes one desire to be great at everything. That these individuals yearn to be a great friend and a great father and a great husband. That these people long to be a great worker and a great ball player and the best dishwasher ever seen. He thought that this drive for greatness could not be isolated to a relentless quest to be the great developer and share the same space as the sloth at home. It stands as a contradiction to the very fiber of greatness.
Now I don’t mean the arrogance of “look what I did greatness”. And I am not speaking of the greedy “pay me what I am worth” greatness. I am talking about the “up late at night and no one knows it” greatness. These talents and the intellectual horsepower they harness are not the gas that makes the engines go but the nitro that changes the game.
It is tough – no doubt – to manage these talents as they do not walk the normal path. The last thing you want to do with these guys and girls is treat them “different”. Moreover, they require the feel of the scorching earth the rest of us walk on to stay grounded. But grounded should not be confused with restricted in as much as risk taking should not be confused with recklessness.
Finding the best mechanism to attract and retain grey matter ought to be a priority. Freeing this talent of corporate politics and cultural anomalies should be a part of the daily process of providing the adequate structure, properly balanced with the freedom to become remarkable.