Sunday, December 18, 2016

The 38th Parallel of Organizations

Donald Trump
Donald Trump
Every organization has an organizational structure. The formal structure, often represented in an 'organization chart' displays names, titles and reporting responsibilities.  Paralleling that is the informal structure of how organizations actually work.  Often titled staff "make things happen" beyond the representation of the organization chart and it's accompanying catalog of formal job descriptions.  The "informal organization chart" lacks documentation other than informal but established and historical knowledge, experience and perspectives.  The lack of formal organization charts and documented processes can be a challenge to new incoming staff members.  Entry level staff struggle to understand how the processes work.  Incoming senior staff often stumble when attempting to formalize or change informal processes that already work fine.

Douglas MacArthur
Douglas MacArthur
It's a challenge.  The junior person needs to "get up to speed" and "show their worth" in the first year. The new senior person needs to "straighten things up"  and "make the changes that need changing." The counterpoint is for all new people to understand an organizations culture.  Strangely, the challenge is to create a formal process of education and communication that transfers knowledge of the informal processes.

Zappos, the online shoe retailer, does a great job of educating new employees on Zappos culture.  A lengthy, mandatory training session on company culture is followed by the offer to leave the company, with a cash offer, if the employee is uncomfortable in any sense with the culture.

Notes to incoming junior staff:
  • listen more than you talk
  • request a peer mentor
  • request a mentor at a more senior position
  • develop a mentor at a comparable organization
  • network
  • be good in your discipline and another
  • plan your future leadership
Notes to incoming senior staff:
  • listen more than you talk
  • request a peer mentor
  • request a mentor at a lessor non-reporting position
  • develop a mentor at a comparable organization
  • network
  • be good in your discipline and another
  • lead based on your experience as a follower
Now for the political commentary...
The President-elect has offered complementary statements about his military hero, Douglas MacArthur:

Regarding Hillary Clinton's website:
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton is helping ISIS by putting her plan to fight the extremist group on her website, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump argued in Monday night’s presidential debate.
“General Douglas MacArthur wouldn’t like that,” Trump said.
My comment:  Donald Trump has frequently mentioned and idolized General MacArthur (and General Patton to a lesser degree).  He's possibly cherry-picked those references.  We all do that to a degree.  
The media and the generals:
Trump:  "I don't want my generals being interviewed."
My comment:  Patton and MacArthur, two egotistic WWII generals are often referenced by Donald Trump.  Each was criticized and censured by sitting Presidents for their public commentary.  MacArthur was removed as commander of US forces in Korea for his commentary.  Historians regard both MacArthur and Patton as leading media whores of their era, successful yet controversial in the field.
Fox News:
Trump commentary: As Donald Trump, our new president-elect, starts to plan for the future, the man he should turn to for advice may have died more than fifty years ago, but his words and deeds live on. He’s General Douglas MacArthur, who actually has a lot in common with Donald Trump—and should be one of his role models as president.    
Like Trump, MacArthur was a maverick, an anti-establishment figure.
Truman: "I fired him (MacArthur) because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the president," Truman later explained. "I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the laws for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail."
Trump reference: Nothing else Trump has said—about Muslims, women, protesters, immigrants and so on—has chilled the political, military and media establishment more than his glib pronouncements on nuclear weapons. If we’re not going to use them, Trump told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews in a typical remark last March, “then why are we making them?” He said he might drop one on the Islamic State group, known as ISIS, or Europe. “You want to be unpredictable,” he said.
MacArthur:  (from "American Caesar" by William Manchester)
On the second anniversary of Hiroshima, when a bell of peace was rung at the very spot where the bomb had exploded, he asked that "the agonies of that fateful day serve as a warning to all men of all races" that nuclear weapons "challenge the reason and the logic and the purpose of man....This," he said, "is the lesson of Hiroshima.  God grant that it not be ignored."
My comment:  MacArthur was also not in favor of the use of nuclear weapons on Japan.  He was a great general, more knowing of his opponent's intentions that they were themselves and believe Japan to be within days of surrender.  This is what differentiates leaders (good executives); understand your staff, your peers and your competition as well or better than they understand themselves.  It's a big job.  Listen.  Read. Plan.
MacArthur now resides in history as a great strategist particularly in his role in the Pacific in WWII.  Unfortunately, ego, his major strength and major flaw undermined his place in history.  

Donald Trump has surrounded himself with people of extreme partisan positions and experience, some with no experience.  His challenge will be to afford  the "MacArthurs" of his appointees to succeed yet remember for whom they work, and to ensure his own MacArthur traits include the ego to define, prioritize and strategize but remain a humanitarian.

Humility has a place in leadership. Good business leaders have followed before they led. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Wisdom of Youthful Organizational Decision-Making

During all of my managerial positions I was older than my staff.  My job was to understand them, their needs, the reality of the organization, and do whatever, but leave them alone.  They were talented.  Rarely did I override their decisions.  The exceptions were at times of major strategic changes in direction or the inevitable crisis; those were the times to pull experience from my cerebral cortex.

The talents to lead are honed when you follow.  It's not easy working for someone you don't care for or who lacks talent.  It preps you for your time at the podium.

Of course getting to the podium is just the start.  My constant advice is continual re-education.  There are few professions or crafts that are not continually developing and changing.  Listening to younger people, your staff and others offers insight.  The challenges of a youthful employee and a more senior employee are much different.  One can be comfortable with their achievement (don't get comfortable) and one wants more challenges and growth (that's your are the waiter).

Organizations that fail to change fail (duh).  My approach in hiring was to always include a younger staff member.  In the IT space I worked really hard to be ahead of the curve in strategy and opportunity but I knew that interviews were about discovering what kind of person wanted to work there.  As a senior person did you know all the trends and lifestyles that you should?  Did you put a candidate in the reject pile because of their ink?  Your youthful counterpart might have explained that half the world wears ink.  

The secondary and more important reason for bringing a youthful employee to
meet candidates is because you might have 3-5 years of employment left.  The young employee seated next to you might be working with this candidate for 25 years.    The young employee and this young candidate are the ones that will shape the future, not you.  It's one of those times that you have to poke yourself in the eye and remember that despite your manager status you work for your employees.  Listen to them.

It's also possible that anyone achieving a 'C' level position should either have to go sit in the basement, out of sight or automatically be laid off in 24 months. That would improve innovation, creativity, etc.

P.S.  "Office Space," the movie, should be viewed annually.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

You need to be afraid...

career fear scared
Traveling north during a recent early winter storm I was able to keep the truck out of the ditch and generally pointing the direction I was headed.  Two winters ago I was following a truck pulling a trailer with four snowmobiles (snow machines) that was traveling too fast.  Four wheel drive is a dangerous thing for all the freeway NASCAR drivers.  As the vehicle lost control it entered the center ditch the snowmobiles went airborne and landed in the southbound lane.  The truck and trailer were deeply buried in half a winter's snow. Never have four snowmobiles flown into my lane.  I have thought about deer, small animals., wrong-way vehicles, moose and airplanes but never four airborne snow machines.  My guess is that first thing that would happen is I'd quickly wonder if they were SkiDoos or the Minnesota-based Polaris machines.  It would be scary.

Listening to NPR interview a gentleman who had written a column for the San Francisco Gate for thirty-five years.  He wrote a column three days a week.  Many times he stared at the screen with a two-hour deadline, but he was good.  One comment he made was "If you have never been scared in your job you are probably in the wrong job."  During the gig I have to admit I was never scared.  I was methodical, thorough and competent.  There were indicators that it was not as challenging as I wished.

Facing the unknown is OK.  We need to have more of a challenge than just the unknown.  If you've worked through every scenario on every big project you're good.  We need the unexpected.  Since leaving the gig I've challenged myself many times. Today I took on a project I'd never done.  Going into it confidently I left feeling damn good.  All the right tools accompanied me and there was only one predicted trip to the hardware store.  It's four hours later and I am afraid that I might have missed one component.  It's sort of like losing one lug nut on a six hole rim...a little bit scary; that's good.