Michael Baer's Stratecution Stories

"Strategy is overrated. We have a strategic plan. It's called doing things". – Herb Kelleher

Tag Archives: Tom Peters

Wearing Out The Carpet – “managing by wandering around”

A lot of management consultants and modern business gurus promise strategies and formulas for success in today’s business. All you need to do is put the pieces in place, and start the right processes, and things will work like a well-oiled machine. Or, all you need is the data, and the best decisions are almost made themselves. The people of an organization, thus, aren’t the key part; the over-arching strategy, process, technology and information are. People are inter-changeable.

But that’s not even close to the truth. No matter how good these strategic aspects of your business are, it’s your people, and they way the work together, that make the difference. Which means that, as a leader, your number one job has to be making those people better. So, if that’s the case, wouldn’t it make sense then that you should spend time with them, talking with them, on their turf and on their terms?

I think so. And so does my favorite management guru, Tom Peters. He uses the phrase “managing by wandering around”, saying it’s one of the most important drivers of excellence in an organization. Peters got the concept from Hewlett-Packard, who described the technique as “marked by personal involvement, good listening skills and the recognition that everyone in an organization wants to do a good job.” It’s also related to the Japanese idea of the Gemba walk, which means “go and see for yourself”.

So here are some ways to activate MBWA and do your own personal Gemba:

1) Wear out the carpet
A lot of leaders talk about having an “open door” policy – as if it’s some evolved habit that invites the rest of the team and organization into your office and your world. But that’s not nearly enough – in fact, expecting others to come to you is probably a retrograde concept that reinforces a leader’s distance and isolation from his team.

Instead, get out there and walk the halls. It does so many good things.

  • First, you do a much better job of staying in direct, intimate touch with your team and the organization.  You feel the pulse and see your team in their environment, you have more casual interactions, you hear conversations you might not see otherwise.  You’ll get to hear their issues, answer questions, and just talk. And maybe catch some small problems before they become big ones.
  • It demonstrates your willingness to go to others’ offices and spaces, instead of having them come to you. This shows respect and appreciation.
  • It fosters a positive perception of you, by allowing you to be seen out from behind your desk, making you seem more available and approachable.
  • The haphazard, “drive-by” conversations you have along the way, with your team members as well as those not on your team, can be incredibly productive, as well.
  • And don’t think that the office is the only place to “wander around”. Live this approach in your day-to-day life, too. Wandering around can open you up to the world around you and let you see things differently.

2) Stop the email craziness
Email is a major part of our lives and our businesses. And it’s, in general, a great productivity driver. However, we all get caught up in it more than we should – and we need to get back to having conversations.

First of all, email sometimes actually creates issues and conflict, due to it’s lacks of tone, shades of gray and humanity. People read into things, perceive confrontation and controversy, and overreact. And reply, and reply, and reply – email often draws out and prolongs issues beyond helpfulness. We need the dynamics of one-to-one conversations.

And, while email is very effective in quickly dealing with black and white issues and situations, it’s quite rare that issues are so black and white that they can be solved in writing. Take a walk and discuss it in person!

And finally, email causes an incredible reactive-ness. Someone writes something, asks a questions, poses a problem – and we need to REACT immediately. The problem is, we are pausing to think less and less, and we’re not giving ourselves time to consider the bigger picture. The truth is, it’s ok to delay responding for a few minutes, in order to reflect and think… and it’s even better to follow up with a conversation.

3) Check your devices at the door
One other thing we need to do is to make time for uninterrupted conversations. We are all now texting, checking emails, or fact-checking during meetings and discussions. Shouldn’t we allow ourselves some uninterrupted time? Put down the cell phones, iMacs and iPads, and just listen and talk.

What do you think? Do you agree with MBWA? What are some of your examples? I’d love to hear them.

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Ballmer vs. Bezos?

Conservatism vs. Progressivism? Protection of what we were and are vs.  Creation a something new? Looking backward vs. Looking ahead? No, I’m not talking about the dramatic polarization of American politics. I’m speaking of a duality of leadership and corporate culture. And there is perhaps no more instructive a comparison than Steve Ballmer vs. Jeff Bezos (thanks to Adam Hartung of Forbes for this helpful comparison).

For more than 10 years, Ballmer has defended what Microsoft has and is, and has consistently promised that Microsoft will remain relevant and its products, dominant. All this in the face of gigantic shifts in computer usage and evolving devices, which confound Microsoft’s PC-based strength. On the other hand, Bezos has consistently focused on the future, on what’s possible, in defining his brand and his business. Amazon has grown into segments and across devices, driven by Mr. Bezos’ focus on the future. It’s brought Amazon, and its investors, significant growth over the past 10 years, the same time period that Ballmer and Microsoft have stagnated.

Let’s define this a bit further and make it more relevant. “Ballmer” type leaders and cultures are inherently conservative – they fight change. The look backwards at what got them where they are today, vs. looking ahead and asking where can they go. They “manage” what’s been given or achieved already, vs. “leading” development of what doesn’t exist yet and making it possible. And a key aspect of these “Ballmer” companies is they rely on their current experience and expertise to dictate what they do. In fact, you often hear the statement, “that’s not how it’s done around here” at these types of companies – which is, according to a post by Jason Heller in MediaPost, the most debilitating phrase and mindset that exists against progress, creativity and innovation.

Several have written recently of the negative aspects of experience as an inhibitor of creativity and innovation, including the book “The Innovation Killer”, by Cynthia Barton Rabe. They posit that experience and expertise, which tend to be viewed positively by nearly everyone, can actually hurt innovation and development of creative ideas.  That what we “know” puts limits on what we can imagine.  Rabe talks about a “paradox of expertise”, where a deep knowledge of what exists makes it harder to see “what if”.

The digital shift in Advertising and Marketing demands more of a progressive, Bezos-like approach, and less of a reliance on what we know and have already experienced. There is so much new every day, so much uncertainty and unknown, so much to learn. And today’s “norm” is tomorrow’s “out-moded” – so one has to be open to new approaches, new answers, and new ways. So how can one be more Bezos-like?

  1. Inspire Audacity
    This is a recommendation from Steve Farber (a former partner of Tom Peters, one of my current Stratecution heroes) on how to become a “radical and profound leader”.  It involves a disregard for normal constraints, thinking and acting “outside the box,” and inspiring people to set big goals and do something really significant.
  2. Know what you don’t know
    Be open about what you don’t know, vs. always relying on what you do. Certainty and surety are fine in a black-and-white world, but advertising never was, and surely isn’t today. If you’re not certain, then you can question freely – yourself, your assumptions and the way you’ve always done things. But don’t confuse not being certain with tentativeness or fear. Once you make a decision, swing for the fences.
  3. Let “process” be a means to an end, not an end in itself
    Process formality and executional excellence are very important. But never let them be more important than the work or ideas themselves – remember, without these, there’s no need to even HAVE a process. Allow yourself some room to bend process in the service of developing great ideas, or, better yet, develop a bendable, more flexible process.
  4. Add some “fresh thinkers” to your development teams
    Most teams are made up of people with expertise and experience with specific Clients and on particular types of programs. So it’s natural for them to develop a view of the limits of what’s possible, as well as a “right way” to do things. So include a team member whose role is to think of all possibilities, not just those that have worked in the past. Rabe calls these folks zero-gravity thinkers”: “innovators who are not weighed down by the expertise of a team, its politics, or ‘the way things have always been done.’
  5. Embrace mistakes
    If you’re forging new ground, then you’re likely going to make a few mis-steps. Encourage it, and allow for it in your schedules. However, be ruthless in your demand for learning from these mistakes – and how to avoid them in the future.

What are some examples of the leaders you work with? What type of leader do you want to be? How do you maintain a progressive viewpoint?

Up With People!

No matter what your business is, from making ads to making widgets, there’s one aspect in driving excellence that’s more important than anything else.  It’s not your technology or systems, not the quality of your product, not specific expertise you have. And it’s not having audacious goals, having a bold mission-statement, or a brilliant vision. It’s your focus on developing your internal talent that makes the biggest difference.

The number one role of leaders should be growing and developing new leaders. Period.  As Tom Peters says, it’s “people first, second, third, fourth”. Do you provide inspiration, education, opportunity and support for your employees? Which is why, in a recent Mercer What’s Working global survey of nearly 30,000 people in 17 countries, “being treated with respect” ranked as more important to employees than even salary or benefits.

Jim Collins says that good leadership is empowering employees to do what they’re good at in the service of something bigger than themselves. Do your employees feel they are a part of something? And do they see a role for themselves, beyond the specific output they are creating. Collins also says “the best leaders don’t worry about motivating people, they are careful to not de-motivate them.”  So how do you not de-motivate your most important resource?

Say the following mantra: “my job is making others better”
This means that a leader should worry not at all about getting credit for doing specific things; that he or she succeeds or fails on those on the team getting credit for doing them. This can be tricky for a confident and experienced leader with a healthy ego. Why? Because they have gotten to where they are by getting credit for things.  But a leader needs to let go of ownership and proprietariness and the need for having their name attached to accomplishments. It’s enough to know they led the team and individuals to success.

Engage with your team
Your team needs to know your are connected, in the loop, and not above-it-all. This is why listening is as important as speaking (maybe more important) – they need to feel heard, understood and respected. An approach I endorse comes from early Hewlett-Packard philosophy, but I got from Tom Peters, is the idea of MBWA – “management by wandering around”. Get out of your office and walk the halls amongst your team. It helps you, and it helps them.

Respect and empower
“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what you want to do and let them surprise you with their results,” General Patton

Lots of leaders still lead via an out-dated command and control style that de-motivates and disrespects their employees. Your team doesn’t need you to do their work or tell them how to do it. And they want to know that you care about their thoughts and ideas. Thus, the most important thing you can demonstrate is that you don’t know everything – and want to know what they think.  In fact, “what do you think?” may be the most empowering and motivating thing you can say to your team. With the second most being “how can I help?”

Show appreciation
“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated”, William James

This may be obvious, but it’s the most often forgotten part of the equation. People are the most important part of any business – “lead people, not projects” is the best bit of management advice I’ve ever gotten. However, since it all comes down to delivering projects, accomplishing tasks, getting work done, we tend to forget that it’s our people who do it all. Take the time to acknowledge that, and it won’t be forgotten. According to Herb Kelleher, treating his employees like customers is the #1 secret to his success.

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