Friday, October 20, 2017

An Answer to Freek Vermeulen

In the midst of doing some research, I came across an article by Freek Vermeulen, a Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School that caught my eye. The article was entitled Stop Comparing Management to Sport. It caught my eye because in my Strategic Management classes, I often use sports as an analogy.

In his article, Vermeulen states that sports is an "unhelpful analogy" and that managing your company like it was a sport can "lead your business astray" or "create a mighty corporate mess." He cites as support for his claim the notion of "compression diseconomies." Vermeulen does a nice job of explaining that concept here. Basically, the idea is that if one company puts 100 hours in a row into a project, they will likely not have the same level of performance as a company who also put 100 hours into the project--but spread out over a longer period of time, say, in 5 hour chunks.

While Vermeulen uses this concept to support his recommendation to "stop comparing management to sports," my contention is that this is exactly one of the reasons sports is a GREAT analogy for management, strategy, and business in general.

Vermeulen writes that:

One can throw more resources at it (the business), work harder, and whip others into expending more effort too, but the organizational elements that make up a working firm - which by themselves may not be rocket science - need to gradually blend together to grow into a well-functioning organization. This takes nurturing, care, and, simply, time. Prematurely piling more effort onto something that hasn't blended yet can actually make it worse.

How is that different than sports? People who pay attention to sports know that winning comes from consistent practice, planning, strategic planning, leadership, effective culture, and time. Vermeulen implies that sport is the result of a moment in time...and ignores that efforts that lead up to that moment in time. Success in sports--and in business--do not happen overnight.

Vermeulen suggests a "better, but admittedly less sexy metaphor" of being a "builder of communities." This suggests that he doesn't understand the point of analogies or metaphors. The point of those tools are to connect people to something that they don't understand as well by connecting something that they do understand well. My students understand sports better than they do community building. I would argue that so do business leaders.

The entire article by Vermeulen is insulting to anyone who understands BOTH sports and business.

Frankly, it seems to be written by someone who has no real experience with sports.



Friday, August 25, 2017

NFL Protesters are Children

It's interesting to me that the last post I made on this blog was 5 years ago...about Trump's leadership (or lack thereof). While it's tempting to address that again, I decided to go another, albeit just as controversial, route.

Cleveland Browns players take a knee during a recent Pre-Season game.
The NFL players protesting during the National Anthem are children.

Yes, that is meant to be provocative. But if you can get past either your glee that you agree with me or your hatred because I am just spouting more "white privilege," read on.

The Anthem protests are ostensibly about bringing attention to an issue that these players want to bring attention to. It's not working. Yes, we are talking...but we are talking MOSTLY about whether these players are un-American, or whether the NFL should punish them, or if this is a "free-speech" issue. None of those things are what the players wanted us to talk about. And that's THEIR fault.

Here's the explanation about the "children" comment. Many of us who have been parents of young children have experienced the joy of a child disagreeing with us and our parenting techniques. These young children wish to express their displeasure. Do they approach us as a calm human being with a cogent argument about why they think our actions were unjust, unfair, or wrong? No...heck no. They can't. They don't know how. They are children. Instead, they throw a fit and say things like "that's not FAIR!" "I HATE this place!" "I HATE YOU!" Yes, it hurts to be on the receiving end of this tirade but we also know, and try hard to remind ourselves, that they are children and don't know any better.

Thus the problem with these players. They may WANT to bring attention to a cause but they are actually doing more harm than good. They are creating negativity and adversaries simply because of the way they went about trying to bring attention to their cause. They aren't children because they have the ability to discuss an issue as adults. They have MANY means of bringing attention to their cause that MOST did not attempt. Those other ways would have resulted in significantly less backlash and significantly more discussion of what they actually wanted discussed.

This is the lesson or us as leaders. If there is something we want to or need to change, we need to realize we need to develop allies in that desire. We have to be thoughtful about the tactics we use to engage those who disagree with us so that we do not create MORE people who disagree with us.

Maybe these football players don't actually know any better. On the field, they adversity with violence. Hit someone hard and they will acquiesce. Perhaps this is why they are doing what they are doing.

But it is childish...

Monday, March 5, 2012

How NOT to lead a boardroom...

Donald Trump has had a great deal of success with his various iterations of "The Apprentice." For me, the novelty wore off after a season--although I did come back for the first "Celebrity Apprentice." But last night, I came back and I was struck by something: I really hope there are not impressionable minds out there that think that Trump's actions in the boardroom are anything close to how to actually lead and evaluate people.

It seems that one of Trumps favorite moves in the boardroom is the "gotcha" move. Last night, he asked Clay Aiken what he thought of George Takei as a leader. Clay, being the polite guy he was, answered that he thought George did a great job. But see, Trump already knew that his son had talked to Clay during the project and asked that same question of Clay. At that time, Clay chuckled a little bit (it wasn't nearly the laugh that Trumps son implied). This was, of course, thrown back into Clay's face in front of both teams in the board room and Clay was left to explain it away--in front of both teams.

What was worse was Trumps insistence on asking the Project Manager's who they would bring back to the boardroom if their team lost. George Takei answered the question and ticked off Lou Ferrigno (although, it apparently doesn't take much to insult Lou). The ladies team Project Manager managed to avoid the question even after The Donald insisted that "you know you have to answer the question." I kept saying out loud. "just say 'I'll deal with that if my team is the one that lost.'"

Back to my point, though. I've been deeply involved in performance improvement research lately and this act by The Donald just sticks in my craw. Yes, I am aware it is done for TV. However, I am also aware that many people take what they see on TV as being "reality." After all, that's what it is, right? "Reality TV?"

There is something to be said about the very simple management rule that Captain Walter Kelly, USAF taught me back in ROTC at the University of Akron: "Praise in public, criticize in private." I know Capt. Kelly didn't invent that saying but he was the first person I remember hearing that from...and it left an impression.

I wonder how The Donald would feel if Ivanka was in MY boardroom and facing the same kind of questions? Wait a minute...I've got an idea for a new show! "Celebrity Apprentice: Trump Edition!" I'll let you know as soon as I hear from the network...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lintastic Lesson!

Plenty has already been written about how in the world Jeremy Lin could have gone unnoticed for so long. Certainly a lot of factors have been discussed: his race, his size, his overall "look" (meaning he didn't look overtly athletic), and his self-admitted lack of flashy play. But one reason strikes me as being a poignant lesson for leaders and coaches of leaders: he wasn't really given a chance.

In his stints in Houston and Golden State, Lin didn't get much playing time. Even when he arrived at the Knicks, he had more bench time than playing time--by a large margin. Now, not everyone gets to play as much as they want--even in the NBA. The disparity of talent from starting 5 to bench can often be dramatic. So, this is not an argument that "everyone should play." This is the big leagues. This is the real world. This isn't community-center kids basketball where everyone gets a trophy.

But, what seems to be clear is that this is a situation where scouts, coaches, and GM's didn't really look hard enough at their talent. Instead, they seemed to be content to buy-in to the "conventional wisdom" about Lin. When they got him on their team, they put him into the role that fit that conventional wisdom--without giving it a second thought.

Then disaster pretty much struck the Knicks. Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, THE big stars of the team, both were gone--at least temporarily. That gave Lin an opportunity. Make no mistake, I don't think this story has anything whatsoever to do with great coaching or insight by Knicks Coach, Mike D'Antoni. He was forced to play Lin because of a shortage. He should feel embarrassed just like a lot of Lin's former coaches do. To Lin's credit, he made--and is making--the most of this opportunity. NOW, D'Antoni has to do some coaching because he has to figure out how to keep Lin in the mix when Stoudemire (now back) and Melo are both on the floor. That will also be a challenge for Lin but at least now he has a chance to deal with it--rather than sleep on a couch and dream about it.

The lesson for us in the business world is this: who is the Jeremy Lin on our team? Have we put enough effort in evaluating--and re-evaluating our talent? Have we given our teams a chance to fail? Yes, I said "fail." You can't really give people the chance to succeed if you, as the leader, are also willing and prepared to allow them to fail.

Leaders: avoid buying into the conventional wisdom regarding your team. Make your own judgments and put forth significant effort in giving your team the opportunity to fail. The results just may be Lincredible!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Influence People!

I had the pleasure of listening to Brian Ahearn this evening at the Central Ohio Coaches meeting at THE Ohio State University. Brian is one of only 27 people--in the world--who is certified by to present the principles of Dr. Robert Cialdini
He shared some great insights into simple--really simple--things that people can do to influence people! And "people" has significant meaning to Brian's message...but you have to go to his blog to find out what it means! I couldn't help but frantically scribble notes as ideas popped into my head inspired by Brian's talk tonight!

Do yourself a favor and check out Brian's blog: Influence People.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Penn State: A Failure of Leadership

There is a reason that both Joe Paterno,  former head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lion football team, and Graham Spanier, former President of Penn State University, were fired in the wake of the current scandal: they failed in their roles as leaders.

Whatever the details end up being, the events took place on their watch and ultimately, they are responsible. I think the Board took the necessary decisive action with regard to Spanier and Paterno--but it remains to be seen who else should be held accountable.

This is a poignant lesson for leaders at all levels of organizations. Organizational culture is most often a reflection of leadership. If leaders overlook minor things, soon there will be more "minor" things happening within the organization. In time, minor things will develop into less-than-minor things. Before long, there is a grown man showering naked "horsing around" with young boys at the University YOU are responsible for.

Jerry Sandusky didn't develop overnight. I am of the opinion that the only way this could happen at PSU is because there was a culture that allowed for leaders to "overlook" things that should have been major warning signs within a healthy organization.

PSU had a cancer and only now has the tumor become visible to the world. Perhaps with new leadership, PSU can start the long road to recovery.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Eisenhower on Leadership

Leadership is the art of getting someone to do what you want done--because they want to do it! 
Dwight D. Eisenhower 

 One of the risks of reading this quote is that one could get the impression that leadership is about manipulating people. If we don't go deep enough into the last part of the quote--"because they want to do it"--we will not really understand the power of leadership. To be blunt--as Eisenhower oft was--this is not about people wanting to do things because they want to keep their job, get a promotion, stay out of the doghouse, or just get through the day. This quote is about connecting with those you are leading in such a deep way that the motivation to perform comes from within them--inspired by you. This is what leadership coaching is all about.

Coaching is a technique used by more and more leaders who desire to see their people fulfill their highest potential. It is a not a process by which leaders tell their people "here's what you need to do." Rather, it is a process that inspires people to say to the leader "here's what I can do!" Because the action steps come from within the person being lead, the rate of success is much higher. Because the ideas come from within the lead, the action steps are things that they want to do.

I like to think this is what Eisenhower was referring to...