Please, Let’s Stop Talking About Apple, Southwest Airlines and Zappos

Posted by amy & filed under Uncategorized.

Like all of you, I go to conferences to learn new things and how to be a better leader. When I do go, I get my money’s worth. I go to listen to every speaker and I take notes. I am a sponge. I am looking for secrets to success, insights, lessons to take home and maybe even shortcuts. Sometimes I AM a speaker at these conferences. Which brings me to my request for all speakers in the future: Let’s broaden the conversation and stop talking about the same companies – usually Apple, Zappos and Southwest Airlines.

At a recent conference in Scottsdale, I showed up early, all ready to learn, and spent the morning listening to two very animated, well-trained professional business speakers. Their PowerPoint presentations and their graphics were impressive and at some point in their careers, they each worked with, not at, Apple, Southwest Airlines or Zappos. They each talked about lessons learned from these three companies. This is not a new conversation and it could have been any conference. Lately, I’ve found that too many professional speakers rant on about lessons learned from the holy trinity of Apple, Southwest Airlines and Zappos.

I was the third speaker of the day scheduled to go after lunch, the worst slot of the day. The theme of this particular conference was all about “How to Grow the Business” and the audience was full of executives who flew in from all over the world. My opening statement was this:

“Good afternoon everyone, I am pleased to be here and I promise not to talk about Apple, Southwest Airlines or Zappos”.

The response was immediate – I received a standing ovation. It’s not often that happens in the first minute of a speech. Although my talk about change management was very well received, at the end of it I did not receive another standing ovation. It didn’t matter. My message about the importance of implementation, and how change happens hit the mark. And, as promised, I never mentioned Apple, Southwest Airlines or Zappos. Sorry, but the world is tired of hearing about these companies.

A caveat: I am a fan of these three companies. I am addicted to Apple products, I often fly Southwest Airlines and I buy shoes from Zappos, but I don’t work there and I may have learned all I can from them. I am envious of their success and I wish them well and I wish I bought stock a long time ago but I am tired of the same old stories. They had Steve Jobs and Herb Kelleher and Tony Hsieh and they had innovators and movies are made about them. They are regaled on 60 Minutes and in books and magazines. They are big and successful and what worked there/then may or may not work for me now. Aren’t there other lessons from other companies? Aren’t there companies that I can identify with more who are eking it out every day? Aren’t there companies where the best talent quits and some months are not so good?

When I hear a business speaker, I want to be motivated, not sorry I don’t work somewhere else. I want to know how I can improve, not how a brilliant leader did it a few years ago somewhere else. And, I want genuine advice that might include some practical tips about how to be better and what pitfalls to avoid.

What can we learn from Groupon? How about GM, coming out of bankruptcy and now facing a barrage of criticism? How about the typical mid-market company who is trying to attract talent in a day when everyone wants to work at Google or Facebook? What can we learn from the turnaround at HP or Yahoo? There are thousands of companies, why does every business speaker only talk about three?

Maybe there isn’t much to learn from the struggling and changing organizations I mention but it’s time to take a look. I suspect there is more to learn there than from the Big Three. Most of the world does not work at Apple, Southwest Airlines or Zappos. Most of the world works for organizations that professional speakers will never cite in their talks.

At my next conference I want to hear about lessons learned from the initial rollout of Obamacare or how GM plans to move from a culture of cost to a culture of quality and safety. The lessons to glean there are current and gnarly and like the ones most of us face. That’s what I want to give speeches about too.

3 Ways to Separate the Urgent! from the CRITICAL

Posted by Richard Moran & filed under Uncategorized.

Three Ways to Separate the Urgent from the Critical from the Very Important – REQUIRES IMMEDIATE ATTENTION!

I receive more than a few emails every day with that bright red exclamation point prominently displayed. These notes all seem important and imply that an immediate response is required. And, I always do read them immediately. Then there are those notes, invites and messages that include words like Urgent, Critical or the dreaded ASAP in the title line. The messages are hot and always get the most of my attention too. They imply that someone’s hair is on fire or nuclear holocaust is impending. There are a lot of them.

THEN THERE ARE THOSE NOTE IN ALL CAPS AND USUALLY IN THE COLOR RED. It is a trick to double ensure that our attention is snagged. The message could be from a Nigerian prince, The Boss, a bill collector or the fire department. We have to read them.

What are we supposed to do? How do we decipher what’s important with this constant barrage of imperatives? Is what the boss wants always the most important? What about the customer? What about the team? What about my blood pressure? It’s almost like a workplace contest to see who can cause the most stress with emergencies.

The options to deal with this constant sense of urgency may be simple. Here are three ways you can deal with the urgency barrage:

  1. Rely on Your Judgment – The most important decision we make every day is to decide what’s important. And only you know what is truly important. Who knows better than you how your contribution will make the organization more successful? Make the decision about what is important or others will make it for you – and you may not like what they decide. What is important could be the accumulation of many small significant activities. Waiting for something that is earth shatteringly important is to wait for something that may never happen.
  2. Develop Your Own Sorting System – Like sorting grades of eggs, we all need to sort the source of all the urgent messages we receive. The boss is probably going to be sorted near the top of the stack. Any thing from the family marked urgent will be ahead of the boss. Anything from an airline regarding your flight will be way up there. Then, there are all the others that need to be sorted. Remember what is critical to others might or might not be critical to you. The chronic offender, like Chicken Little, should probably be ignored.
  3. Don’t Be Fooled and Distracted – Then there are those messages, sometimes from friends, that rage, “Stop everything you are doing to watch this”. What do we do? We stop everything to watch what is usually the latest cool YouTube video. We laugh, we enjoy it, we probably pass it on, but is it urgent and does it require a work stoppage? No. Don’t get faked out by the faux urgent.

It is now to the point when I appreciate it when someone tells me you don’t need to read this right now – it is not that important. Or the important thing you need to know is in paragraph three. Or, this is not urgent, deal with it when you can. Maybe it’s time for all of us to take a deep breath when it comes to urgency, develop our own measured system in what we send and receive and remember that the most important message is not at the top of the incoming mail from someone who guarantees you a job for $75/hour at Amazon.

I can tell you one thing – when it comes to importance, checking Facebook or Instagram first thing every day or worse, all the time, is not in the top three on the urgency scale.

Is ‘Working from Home’ Another Big Work Lie?

Posted by Richard Moran & filed under Uncategorized.

When I wrote about “Out of Office” as a fib, all hell broke loose. Lots of comments and advice about work/life balance and office protocols ensued. The firestorm put a spotlight on another potential office fib: the concept of “working” from “home”. So let’s explore the truthiness of that pronouncement.

It’s a Friday morning and you receive an email message that declares, “I will be working from home today. I can be reached on my cell. Call if you need me.” We have all seen this note and it makes the mind wander and wonder.

Questions about the words “working” and “home” immediately come to mind. Is there anything more to believe than what the note says? The possibilities are endless. The note could mean:

  • Surf’s up, I am on the beach for a three-day weekend.
  • The endless interruptions in the office are frustrating. I really need to get something done today.
  • My child (or parent) has a doctor’s appointment and I can’t deal with the logistics of going to work and running around so I am making it easy on myself by not coming in.
  • I really need a mental health day to recharge my batteries. When I return on Monday I will be shockingly more productive.
  • Baseball season started and I am playing hooky to see Derek Jeter.
  • I need a break from my boss before I kill him or her.
  • My commute is an hour each way every day, I need a break from traffic and for this one day I don’t want to waste the time in my car/train.
  • Last week I worked 80 hours, I deserve a day off but I will have my phone with me anyway.

“Working from Home” could mean any or all of the above. Working from home every day is a slightly different situation but the perception of those who are always telecommuting is often a variation on the same theme mentioned above. Lately, the concept of working at home has taken a beating. The thinking is that people not in the office are less productive and the team needs everyone to show up. That ‘less productive’ perception is probably not deserved.

Nonetheless, companies, large and small, have reconsidered the notion of working from home. The assumption is that those working remotely might be looking for old flames on Facebook rather than really contributing. Traffic on the VPN was a simple way to find out who was “in” and “on” and in some cases the traffic was surprisingly low.

Is the notion of working from home sometimes abused? Yes.

Are some people more productive when not in the office? Yes.

Do remote workers negatively impact corporate culture and teamwork? Maybe.

Will teams perform at a higher level when the team shows up? Probably.

Is “Working from Home” another way to say, “I will contribute, regardless of where I am sitting”?

Read on.

The facts:

  • Contrary to the perception that the person who works at home is a twenty-five year old techie or a young mother, the typical telecommuter is a 49-year-old college graduate who earns $58,000 a year and works for a company with more than 100 employees. These are numbers from the Census Bureau’s Annual American Community Survey. All ages at all levels work from home. And the group includes an equal distribution of men and women and people with and without children.
  • Telecommuting has risen 79 percent between 2005 and 2012 according to statistics from the same American Community Survey. Lots of organizations are thriving with telecommuting workers.
  • The severe winter and all those snow days that many suffered through this winter helped individuals and organizations see both the benefits and pitfalls of telecommuting.

So, is “Working from Home” a big fat lie? The answer is no. Usually. Working from home is a reality of today’s workplace that is being embraced. Flexibility helps us deal with complicated lives and helps organizations retain key people. Researchers are confirming that those who work at home tend to put in longer hours and are often more productive. “Working from home” is usually on top of the regular forty-hour workweek.

But we also know it can hurt an employee’s promotion chances and that some combination of working at home and showing up in the office is better. “Out of sight, out of mind” is not a good career planning mantra if you want to get ahead. The organization suffers too if no one ever shows up. Plans and accommodations need to be put in place that will ensure the organization’s success and accommodate the diverse workforce.

Sure, ‘Working from Home’ is sometimes abused. Sure, there are reasons why it can’t work in some organizations. Sure, most of us want to be part of a terrific team that is a model of innovation and productivity. And technology has been a curse and a miracle when it comes to being productive wherever we might be. So ‘Working from Home’ almost always means work is being done somewhere. There are enough lies and fibs at work, “Working from Home” is rarely one of them.