In his own words….
I’ve had a long career as a journalist and author. Lately, I’ve added a new hat: I’ve joined VSA Partners as its Editorial Director. The plan is to marry business to big-think journalism in a way that hopefully helps both prosper. The first example of that is the book commissioned by IBM and co-authored by me, Steve Hamm and Jeff O’Brien — Making the World Work Better.
My latest book, co-authored with Vivek Ranadivé, is The Two-Second Advantage: How We Succeed by Anticipating the Future…Just Enough (September, 2011).
Last year, I had another book out: Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t. The hardcover was published in the fall of 2009 by Broadway Books; the paperback, in August 2010.
I contribute occasionally to Fortune, The Atlantic, Fast Company and other magazines. I had been a contributing editor at the ill-fated Condé Nast Portfolio, joining the magazine prior to its launch in 2007 and hanging on until its demise in April 2009.
Before all this, I worked at USA Today for 22 years, much of it as the newspaper’s technology columnist. The job gave me the privilege of interviewing most of the biggest names in the industry. Here and there, I end up on television and radio. I’ve appeared on PBS, NPR, CNBC, and other media outlets, and I’ve frequently been a keynote speaker and on-stage interviewer at events and conferences.
On the music side, in 2008 I worked with a group of terrific Bay Area musicians and recorded a CD of songs of wry commentary about business and technology. It’s called “Privacy,” by Kevin Maney & His Briefs. You can actually buy it on iTunes. I’ve also played in a DC-area band, Not Dead Yet, which at the moment is dormant, if not actually dead. My shining moment was getting my song “Found It On Google” played on Mitch Albom’s radio show.
I graduated from Rutgers University, grew up in Binghamton, N.Y., and now live outside Washington, DC, while spending a lot of time in New York.
[Here is an excerpt from my second interview of Kevin. To read the complete interview, please click here.]
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Morris: Before discussing The Two-Second Advantage, a few general questions. First, of all the people with whom you have been closely associated, which has had the greatest influence on your personal development? How so?
Maney: Over the very long run, I guess it’s been my brothers. I’m the oldest of three, and the next one is Dave, and then Scott. (I also have a stepbrother, Mark.) Dave, Scott and I have always been close, but it’s more than that. I think our opinions of each other carry great weight, and that’s pushed each of us to be better people, be more ambitious, be wittier, raise better kids, and whole lot of other things like that. And it’s a supportive competitiveness. We’ve always boosted each other, and at times even done business together. Right now, I’m working at a firm, VSA Partners, that Scott introduced me to, and playing a role in Dave’s start-up, Economaney. Fortunately for me, I’m the least smart and savvy of the three of us, so I think I get to learn more from them than they do from me.
Morris: On your professional development?
Maney: There are two people. When I was 25, Hal Ritter just became editor of USA Today’s Money section, and he hired me. I think I was his first hire. I’d say we had a respectful but sometimes contentious relationship. He could be a hard guy to work for — demanding and harsh. But he was also maybe the smartest editor I ever worked for. He knew his audience and drove us to write for it with clear, lean prose. He taught me to have standards and never settle for less, and to have the discipline to always think of the reader. I worked for Hal for the first decade of my career. Whatever kind of writer I am today, it’s because of those 10 years. Hal is now an editor at the Associated Press. We nominally keep in touch.
The other important person is Jim Collins. While Hal taught me to pay attention to the details, Jim played a significant role in helping me think big and broadly. The two of us met well before Jim got famous for his books Built to Last and Good to Great. I was working on a story for USA Today, and talked to a publicist at Stanford, where Jim was a professor at the time, about it. The publicist told me that I should talk to Jim — that Jim was working on a book about a similar topic. That book ended up being Built to Last, but it was then a half-finished manuscript. Jim and I talked and hit it off. He sent me the manuscript, and I thought it was one of the most important business documents I’d ever read. When Built to Last was finally published, I jumped on it and wrote a cover story for USA Today, which in turn was the spark that sent the book up the bestseller list.
Anyway, Jim and I became friends, and I can’t tell you the number of big, analyze-the-universe conversations he and I have had. I love the way he makes me think. His ideas about corporations had a huge impact on the way I analyzed Thomas Watson in The Maverick and His Machine. I wouldn’t be the same kind of author if not for Jim’s friendship.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Maney: I knew I wanted to be a writer from as far back as I can remember. That was my talent. Lord knows it wasn’t math. If there was an epiphany, it came when I went to Rutgers and got involved in the journalism program. I reluctantly signed up for a journalism major, thinking I needed a fall-back way to make money should my career as a novelist fail to take off. As I started to try on journalism, including doing internships and working at the campus paper, I found I actually liked it. So I started to want to be a journalist.
And then there was another epiphany when I discovered the great old New York Times columnist Russell Baker. I realized there could be a way to be a newspaper journalist and write funny yarns in a column. Then I wanted to be Russell Baker. I kind of half achieved it — writing a column for USA Today that often involved funny yarns about technology.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have since achieved thus far?
Maney: Well, with all due respect to Rutgers, I’m not sure the value of my time there was in what I learned academically. It was more about the fact that Rutgers introduced me to journalism and diverted my path into newspapers.
Morris: You are a serious musician. To what extent has your significant involvement with music proven to be highly valuable in ways and to any extent you had not anticipated? Please explain.
Maney: I’m not sure how much the word serious applies! I write songs like “Wouldn’t Want to Be Bill Gates” and “Little Tattoo and All Over Tan.” But I certainly have pursued music in general and songwriting in particular.
What’s it done for me? I think it’s become part of my personal brand — in a field where having a personal brand is an asset. It’s helped me stand out a bit in the minds of a lot of people in the tech industry. I’m that tech writer who gets on stage and plays funny tech songs. I wouldn’t want that to be all I’m known for, but it’s a bit of a differentiator.
Morris: In your opinion, what will be the single greatest challenge that business leaders (especially CEOs) will face during the 3-5 years?
Maney: This gets a bit into what I’m doing with my brother Dave. He and I and other people we’re working with believe that the disruptions and difficulties in the economy the past few years aren’t just a bump in the road — they’re part of a massive change in very big forces, brought on by the Internet, globalization, and the flood of data. It’s changing the very nature of what a company is, the nature of what a job is, the value that proximity has or doesn’t have. Economaney is kind of a new age think tank for tossing these ideas around and trying to make sense of them. All in all, the next three to five years are going to be among the most challenging in history to be a CEO in America — or for that matter, President of the country.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Kevin Maney cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Richard D. Kahlenberg for Slate magazine. To read the complete article, please click here.
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What Michelle Rhee’s fans don’t get about education reform
The national press and political class adore Michelle Rhee, who ran the D.C. public schools from 2007 until 2010. She’s appeared on the cover of Time and Newsweek, chatted on television with Oprah and David Gregory, and starred in Davis Guggenheim’s documentary Waiting for Superman and a 12-part series on PBS’ the NewsHour. This level of attention is unheard of for a schools chancellor of any size district, much less the 108th largest in the country.
For many, Rhee is the heroine in a morality play that draws on the power of the civil rights movement. In Washington, D.C., disadvantaged black and brown children are being robbed of an education, and Rhee has been battling the forces that were keeping them down: the teachers’ union. Whereas the union selfishly put adults first, Rhee puts kids first. The new organization she just founded, StudentsFirst, is hoping to raise $1 billion explicitly to counter the political influence of the unions.
In years past, Republicans like Bob Dole castigated teachers’ unions as a central impediment to good schools, which made political and policy sense because the unions are strong supporters of Democratic candidates and provide the political muscle that has stymied conservative school-privatization initiatives. But today the critique of unions is advanced not just by conservatives like George Will, but liberals like Jonathan Alter and Nicholas Kristof; not just the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, but also of the Washington Post and New York Times. And in the 2008 presidential debate at Hofstra University, Barack Obama called Rhee, one of the nation’s leading critics of unions, a “wonderful new superintendent.
Rhee’s message about education reform is very seductive because it’s simple and optimistic. Childhood poverty and economic school segregation, in Rhee’s world, are just “excuses” for teacher failure. If we could just get the unions to agree to stop protecting bad teachers and allow great teachers to be paid more, she says, we could make all the difference in education. The narrative is attractive because it indeed would be wonderful if poverty and segregation didn’t matter, and if heroic teachers could consistently overcome the odds for students whom everyone agrees deserve a better shot in life.
The fact that Rhee is a hard-working Ivy League graduate makes the elite press respect her as one of their own. And Rhee’s flair for the dramatic makes her irresistible. In his well-written and highly favorable biography, The Bee Eater, Richard Whitmire recounts that as a teacher in Baltimore, Rhee grabbed the attention of her students one day when she swatted a bee flying around the classroom and promptly swallowed it. As a chancellor, Rhee once told a film crew, “I’m going to fire somebody in a little while. Do you want to see that?”
Most education researchers, though, recognize that Rhee’s simple vision of heroic teachers saving American education is a fantasy, and that her dramatic, often authoritarian, style is ill-suited for education. If the ability to fire bad teachers and pay great teachers more were the key missing ingredient in education reform, why haven’t charter schools, 88% of which are nonunionized and have that flexibility, lit the education world on fire? Why did the nation’s most comprehensive study of charter schools, conducted by Stanford University researchers and sponsored by pro-charter foundations, conclude that charters outperformed regular public schools only 17 percent of the time, and actually did significantly worse 37 percent of the time? Why don’t Southern states, which have weak teachers’ unions, or none at all, outperform other parts of the country? Rhee often noted that poor blacks in New York are two years ahead of poor blacks in Washington, which properly illustrates that demography is not destiny, but New York didn’t get ahead by firing bad teachers. Chancellor Joel Klein terminated only three teachers for incompetence between 2008 and 2010.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Richard D. Kahlenberg is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and author of Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race, and Democracy and All Together Now: Creating Middle-Class Schools Through Public School Choice.
Roger Connors and Tom Smith are the founders and Co-CEO’s/Co-Presidents of Partners In Leadership, Inc., the internationally recognized premier provider of Accountability Training® Services around the world. They have thousands of clients, and have trained hundreds of thousands of people, in over 50 countries. Their clients include 25% of the “most admired companies in the world” and all 13 of the most admired Pharmaceutical Companies, almost half of the Dow Jones Industrial Average Companies and nearly half of the Fortune 50 largest companies in the United States, along with many other well-known and highly regarded organizations. They have produced the most comprehensive collection of books on workplace accountability ever written. All of their books, The Oz Principle, How Did That Happen? and their most recent book, Change the Culture Change the Game, have ranked as the No. 1 leadership book on The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Amazon.com bestselling lists.
Morris: Before discussing any of your books, a few general questions. First, when and why did you begin to realize the relevance of L. Frank Baum’s classic book, The Wizard of Oz, to the business world?
Connors: We use the metaphor of the Wizard of Oz in our first book, The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability, as a literary device to create even greater interest in our message on accountability. While it is a light touch, it is a meaningful connection that we have found useful all over the world. In fact, our publisher tells us that The Oz Principle has continued to be in the top-5 bestselling business books in the leadership and performance category since it was first published in 1994, year after year.
To us, the well-known story of the Wizard of Oz is not just a classic children’s novel, but it is a story about the journey each of us must make to discover the powerful advantage we gain when we take personal accountability for achieving results. Honestly, our children think we have gone a little overboard in drawing the parallels, but they are there. Consider the four main characters of the story and each of their challenging circumstances. Dorothy was taken by a tornado, an act of God, away from home to the land of Oz. There she meets the scarecrow who was not given a brain, the tin man who was not given a heart and the Lion who had no courage. Each of them felt a victim of their circumstances; circumstances that were entirely outside of their control. At the beginning of the story, they commiserate together about their plight, but soon agree that the wizard in the Emerald City could solve all of their problems for them, or so they hoped.
They begin their journey down the yellow-brick road to the Emerald City in search of the wizard, only to find that — after doing what he had required (i.e. obtain the broomstick from the wicked witch of the west) — that he was only an old man, hiding behind a curtain pulling levers and blowing smoke, but unable to do anything for them.
During their quest, each of them discovered the power within themselves, with a little outside coaching and encouragement along the way, to overcome the obstacles they faced and achieve the results they wanted. The lion showed great courage, the tin man great heart and the scarecrow great wisdom. Dorothy discovered that she always had the power to click her heels and return home.
Smith: As you can see, the Wizard of Oz is a great metaphor for the journey to greater accountability. While our book, The Oz Principle, makes a light treatment of the analogy, we think we make a compelling case that taking greater personal accountability is an effective way to empower yourself to overcome the obstacles you face and achieve the results you want. In the book, you will learn how to avoid the victim cycle and the blame game and take the Steps To Accountability and operate Above The Line to See It, Own It, Solve It and Do It. Greater personal accountability truly does bring greater results.
Morris: In your various books and articles, you seem to be especially interested in sharing what lessons can be learned from ordinary people whose achievements are extraordinary. Is that fair assessment?
Smith: To a great degree, I think that is right. We love to tell the story of the busser who was cleaning tables in a restaurant chain we work with. They were beginning their national launch, but were struggling in hitting their numbers. We asked the senior team, what their top result was that they needed to achieve. They said it was “Profit margin.” We asked, “What’s the number?” The team gave responses of 3, 5 and 7 percent. We then asked the CEO what the number was and she rightly responded that “It is somewhere between 3 and 7 percent.” She explained that 3 percent was the number they told corporate they would hit, 5 percent was the number they thought they would hit, their own internal goal, and 7 percent was their stretch goal. While it is not uncommon to have three sets of numbers, it is also common that confusion about results accompanies that lack of clarity. They decided upon 5 percent as the number they would communicate throughout their entire organization.
Connors: That busser we were talking about. You could walk into any of their restaurants and stop the busser and ask them, “What’s your job?” Typically, you would expect to hear something like, “Clean tables.” Not here. This busser would respond, “My job is to make a 5 percent profit margin. The faster I clean tables, the more people we seat per hour. The more people we seat, the greater the profit margin. That’s what I do!” This company enjoyed a 200% increase in profit margin over the next 18 months. We think this story illustrates the power of personal accountability. When you get everyone in the organization at every level engaged in achieving results, fully invested with their hearts and minds, extraordinary things happen.
Morris: My own opinion is that crisis does not develop character. Rather, it reveals it. What do you think?
Connors: Interestingly enough, our clients usually tell us that they work best when they are in “crisis” mode. Everyone suspends their beliefs that prevail in the workplace culture during a crisis. All their inhibitions about working cross-functionally, sharing information, making decisions, etc… go away and people get aligned around the belief that they need to do what it takes to get the result. However, when the crisis is over, they revert back to the existing cultural beliefs and norms that clutter the organizational process, stand as barriers to organizational success and make it more difficult to achieve organizational results. Helping leaders learn how to help people and teams throughout the organization suspend beliefs that don’t work and adopt new beliefs that do work is what our book, Change the Culture, Change the Game, is all about.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Note: Culture of Accountability, Accountability Conversation, Steps to Accountability, Above The Line, Below The Line, See It, Own It, Solve It, Do It, The Oz Principle, How Did That Happen? and Change the Culture, Change the Game are trademarks (™) of Partners In Leadership.
Roger Connors and Tom Smith cordially invite you to check out the complimentary resources they offer at their website.
The title of this post is one of the 52 “truths for winning at business” that Alan M. Webber discusses in Rules of Thumb, published by HarperCollins (2009). Here is a composite of brief excerpts from the book.
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So what do American voters want?
I’d start with the most fundamental of all qualities: Americans are uniquely practical. We want things that work…We Americans pride ourselves on our ability to get things done. We do what it takes to make things happen, and we want products and services that do the same.
The second fundamental American attribute is adaptability. Among all nations in the world we are unique in our steadfast belief that everything, including ourselves, can be made better…
Third, we Americans have always been obsessed with innovation. What’s new, what’s next, what’s never been done before – these are intrinsically American concerns…
What do voters want from our companies?
We want things that work. We want to be able to make them work better. And we want to find things that both work better and are innovative. Three qualities that aren’t mutually exclusive. They’re mutually reinforcing.
Have you got what the voters want?
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Alan M. Webber is an award-winning, nationally-recognized editor, author, and columnist. In 1995, he co-founded Fast Company magazine with William Taylor. In 2000 the magazine was sold to Gruner + Jahr. Last year Webber stepped down from his full-time editorial responsibilities, but has retained his title and contributing role as founding editor.
Previously, Webber was managing editor and editorial director of the Harvard Business Review. Stone. In addition to Rules of Thumb, he co-authored Changing Alliances and Going Global. His articles and columns have appeared in The New York Times Sunday magazine, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications.
He cordially invites you to visit his website.
Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Cathleen P. Black. To read the complete interview and Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
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This interview with Black, former chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, was conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant. It occurred before Ms. Black’s selection as chancellor of New York City’s public schools. Previously, she led Hearst Magazines and says risk-taking can be important in a career.
If Opportunity Knocks, Open the Door
Bryant: Tell me about some of your previous bosses who’ve influenced you.
Black: We’ve all had bad bosses and good bosses. In my positions, I’ve always tried to figure out what’s really good about the way this person leads or manages. When I worked for Al Neuharth, the founder of USA Today, he was a tyrannical boss. Al did not take no for an answer. You just didn’t say, “I cannot do that.”
Now, is my management style like his? No, but yet, you want to set those high expectations. I think smart people, as they’re coming up the ladder, are picking the best of what they’ve observed for the way they manage.
Bryant: That was a career risk going to USA Today in its early days.
Black: I had been at Ms. and then publisher of New York magazine. Being publisher of New York magazine in New York City is a fantastic opportunity, but after seven years I kind of felt like I was in repeat mode. A headhunter approached me about USA Today, and I thought to myself, I love change, I welcome change, I’m not afraid of change, and what an opportunity to be in on almost the ground floor. I saw no downside in it.
An awful lot of people in New York said: “You’re doing what? It’s never going to make it.” But I’ve never been afraid of people who say something is never going to make it. If it’s got the right investment and the right market, it can make it.
When young people are weighing the pros and the cons of another job opportunity, I tell them to be careful about believing that the grass is always greener somewhere else. On the other hand, if it’s going to be a life-changer or a career-changer move, with some reasonable amount of security or success, then I think it’s worth a shot. I’ve always thought that if you’re passionate about something, then you should just be bold in your ambitions.
Bryant: You mentioned that you felt as if you were in “repeat mode” after a while in a job. When you’re hiring and looking at résumés, what’s the right amount of time for somebody to have been in a job?
Black: I used to look for a two- to three-year tenure somewhere, because it meant that you had come into an organization, you had inherited someone’s work plan and then you had your own ideas. If you leave too quickly, you actually have no idea whether your strategy was the right one, and you’re still blaming your predecessor. When it’s your plan, and you’ve been there for another year, can you execute? Was your plan the right one?
Of course, if you talk to a young person today, if they’ve had a job for 11 months, they’ll say, “Why haven’t I been promoted?” Or, “What’s next?” It’s really quite amazing. They want to be on a path for a new position.
We have to learn to take chances on people who are a little bit younger than we would have hired in the past. You’re always weighing experience versus enthusiasm. Are you willing to take a chance on someone who has all of the enthusiasm going for them, but perhaps they don’t have much experience? I think that’s particularly relevant in the digital space today.
Bryant: Many of the C.E.O.’s I’ve interviewed talk of a period in their lives when they really faced adversity. Is that something that you’ve dealt with, professionally or personally?
Black: My father lost his eyesight at age 50 and died at 63. The last 10 years or so of his life were not easy at all. An awful lot of people in that situation wouldn’t have encouraged me to leave Chicago, where I grew up, and go to college in Washington, D.C. And my mother wasn’t in the best of health, either.
That shaped me a lot, in the sense of the gift he gave me, which was that I had to be my own person. He said, “You absolutely should do your year abroad.” I’m sure their friends said to them, “You are crazy.” Here’s this blind man, and my mother’s not very well, and he said, “Go, honey, go ahead, you’re only young once.” So I think it was that sense of just rise above, muscle through and have a good sense of yourself, where you’re from, and what your roots are.
Bryant: What’s your approach for giving feedback?
Black: I’m very direct. I don’t really lose my temper, but if I’m upset about something I don’t want to show that in front of seven people and humiliate whoever it is. You do it five minutes afterward and then you say: “Look, this is what I observed. You were out of order or you shut somebody down.” The point is to solve it right now, and don’t let stuff simmer overnight. Don’t let it linger, and you don’t need 25 e-mails back and forth.
Bryant: If you could ask someone only two or three questions in a job interview, what would they be?
Black: How will you judge your success here? And what would be the first things you would do in the first 30 days?
Bryant: What do you want to hear in their answers?
Black: What I don’t want to hear is: “Well, I’ve thought of seven people that I want to bring in. I really don’t agree with your strategy.” I think you want somebody who is very excited. I mean, how much do you want this job? I always say to people: “Ask for the job. It’s not my job to get you excited. It’s my job to hear from you what you really want to do here and how excited you are to come to this company or to this position.”
Bryant: What’s it like to work for you?
Black: I am direct and I’m decisive. I think being decisive for an executive is important. It doesn’t mean that if it’s not my idea, then it’s a bad idea. But I believe that most people want clarity from their boss or their manager, and they want decisiveness.
So we don’t need to debate something endlessly. Maybe we can talk about it more than once, maybe more than twice, if it’s something really important. But let’s make a decision and move on.
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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. To contact him, please click here.
Adrian Gostick is the author of several bestselling books on corporate culture, including The New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller The Carrot Principle, co-authored with Chester Elton. Gostick also wrote the bestsellers The Integrity Advantage (co-authored with Dana Telford) and The 24-Carrot Manager (co-authored with Elton). His latest book, also co-authored with Elton, is The New York Times bestseller The Orange Revolution: How One Great Team Can Transform an Entire Organization. His research on employee engagement has been called a “must read for modern-day managers” by Larry King of CNN, “fascinating,” by Fortune magazine and “admirable and startling” by the Wall Street Journal.
Gostick’s books have been translated into 20 languages and are sold in more than 50 countries around the world. As a leadership expert, he has appeared on numerous national television programs including NBC’s Today Show and has been quoted in dozens of business publications and magazines. He is vice president of the training and publishing arm of the O.C. Tanner Recognition Company. Gostick earned a master’s degree in strategic communication and leadership from Seton Hall University, where he is a guest lecturer on organizational culture.
Morris: Before discussing any of your books, a few general questions. First, whatever we call the current economic period (e.g. recession, depression, disruption, reset), the fact remains that most people are struggling to survive financially. That said, do you think that the importance of monetary rewards is more than, less than, or about the same as it was (let’s say) five years ago?
Gostick: Just so we are clear: In this economy, as in any really, you pay people absolutely as much as you can afford. The trouble is, we only have so much money to go around. So, with the absence of huge amounts of cash to hand out to our people, what do we do? That’s where we must get creative in engaging our people, helping them feel part of something important, giving them opportunities to grow, letting them know we care about them as individuals.
Morris: Is there an incentive that is even more important to workers than a monetary award? If so, why? And what is the significance of that?
Gostick: What the research shows is that monetary awards are not as motivating as tangible awards. I know that’s counterintuitive, but here’s what the research says. People use small amounts of cash—in fact anything less than $1,000—on paying their bills. Nothing very memorable about paying the gas bill. But it’s amazing how hard people will work to get a new set of golf clubs, jewelry, a trip, or some other tangible award. Psychologists will tell you that people will always say “give me the money. I don’t care if it’s 5 bucks, I want the cash.” But in reality we are not motivated by small amounts. We are motivated by seeing ourselves playing with that new set of clubs, wearing that jewelry or taking the trip.
Morris: Recent research conducted by highly reputable firms such as Gallup and Towers Watson (formerly Towers Perrin) indicates that workers rank “feeling appreciated” among the two or three attributes most important to them. Moreover, a high percentage of highly valued employees indicate, during exit interviews, one of the major reasons to accepting a position elsewhere is that they do not feel appreciated. Here’s my question. Why do so many workers feel under-valued, if valued at all?
Gostick: Why? Because we as managers are so bad at appreciating great work. We are. First, we get so wrapped up in our own work, meeting customer requests, doing what our bosses want, that we forget our primary role is to motivate and engage our team. The ten people we manage can get a lot more done than we can if we only would appreciate more. Second, we think we are pretty good at recognition already. Our research found that 67% of managers believe they are above average at appreciating great work, but only 23% of employees agreed that their boss’s were good at this. That’s a huge gap in perception!
Morris: To what extent (if any) do the most prestigious business schools at major universities (such as Harvard, Northwestern, Michigan, Dartmouth, MIT, and Pennsylvania) prepare executives to provide the recognition and appreciation that all workers crave and few receive?
Gostick: We’ve been asked to speak at several large business schools lately because more educators are realizing this is a gap in their curriculum. However, with that said, few business schools really teach the new generation of MBAs how to serve their people, how to be compassionate, how to communicate effectively. I hear more and more that these newly minted MBAs come out very smart, able to balance a ledger, but with little idea how to motivate a team.
Morris: Now please shift your attention to The Carrot Principle. What promoted you and Chet Elton to write it?
Gostick: We’d been working with some of the world’s best organizations for almost twenty years, putting in place employee engagement and recognition programs. We knew anecdotally that recognition done well could impact a company’s bottom line, but we didn’t have the statistical proof. We conducted a 200,000-person study for that book, and what we found was that once we had the stats, leaders were much more willing to listen to our ideas.
Morris: Since its publication, has the percentage of leaders worldwide who practice recognition with their employees increased, decreased, or remained about the same? Why
Gostick: The book has sold more than half a million copies worldwide and has been adopted by some very large organizations as a Bible of how to treat their people, so I certainly hope we’ve helped. Every year we host a “Carrot Summit” during which business leaders share their success stories of using these ideas, and it’s wonderful to hear how real businesses have shaped their programs from the words we wrote.
Morris: In the Introduction to the second edition (published in 2009), you identify four types of executives: Positives, Fearful, Controllers, and Negatives. Here’s a two-part question: What are the dominant characteristics of each, and, what was each category’s percentage of the total number of people who participated.
Gostick: Here’s what we found from the managers in the survey. Only 26% of leaders are Positive on recognition. They practice this with their employees whether or not they’ve been giving permission and tools from their HR group. The next set of managers (22%) are Fearful of recognition. They want to recognize, but haven’t been given permission from senior leadership to spend any money or do anything out of the norm so they are paralyzed by fear. The next group (20%) are what we call Controllers. They are worried about the human elements of recognition—the jealousies that might occur if they recognize Bob and not Sue, so they do nothing. The last group (a whopping 32% of managers) are Negative on recognition. They add such pearls of wisdom to the leadership lexicon such as “they get recognition every two weeks in their paychecks, don’t they?” This group of managers was by far the least productive.
Morris: What is an “accelerator” and why is one needed?
Gostick: We found that recognition couldn’t make these lousy managers better. They were simply distrusted. However, we found that good managers could use recognition to make everything they were doing better. Recognition in the research was shown to increase the perception of open communication, trust, goal-setting, accountability, teamwork, etc. Appreciating great work accelerated performance. It just makes sense, and now we have the research to statistically prove it.
Morris: Three-part question. First, what are the “Basic Four” foundational building blocks of effective leadership and management? Which seems to be the most difficult to develop? Why?
Gostick: When we did correlation studies on great teams, we found managers received high marks for recognition, but also for four other leadership characteristics: goal-setting, communication, trust and accountability. We came to call them the Basic Four of Leadership because they are so foundational to success. Each is hard to master in its own way: It’s easy to set goals, but hard to provide clarity around goals. It’s easy to communicate, but hard to be open and honest and consistent. Trust is hard to build and maintain, but it is essential in every business relationship. Accountability is also difficult, because we typically see it as a negative.
One employee put it this way: when I make a mistake I’m recognized 100 percent of the time, but when I do something great I’m not recognized 99 percent of the time. In the great teams we studied, managers turned that 1 percent recognition into 5 percent, 10 percent, 20 or higher.
Morris: As you know, Henry Chesbrough has much of value to share in two books, Open Innovation and Open Business Models, about organizational values such as clarity, accessibility, transparency, receptiveness, and trustworthiness. Are these not among the same principles that effective leaders and managers also follow?
Gostick: Absolutely! In fact they are captured in our research findings we call the Basic Four. You must provide clarity of goals. You must be accessible, transparent and receptive to new ideas if you want to build a strong communication culture. And you must be trustworthy.
Morris: Please explain the terms “Altruist” and “Expector.”
Gostick: This is kind of funny. We found a large group of managers who provided recognition to their employees with the “expectation” of something in return, typically harder work. Employees saw through this motivation. However, we found a group of managers who “altruistically” recognized their people for great work because it was the right thing to do. This group of managers saw much better results and had much higher employee engagement scores. So, it does pay to recognize, but you must have good motives.
Morris: To what does the acronym “SAIL” refer? Significance?
Gostick: We found great managers told stories when they recognized. They talked about the Situation they faced, or the problem. They mentioned the Action the employee took to resolve the situation. They talked about the Impact the employee made by taking ownership, being innovative, resolving the customer issue, etc. And finally, they Linked it to the core values of the organization. It’s a great way to make recognition meaningful.
Morris: You seem to agree with Thomas Edison that “vision without execution is hallucination.” In Appendix A, you provide a “Recognition Effectiveness Model.” How does it help to measure the total impact of recognition initiatives? Can it also measure the impact of each individual “carrot”?
Gostick: I love that quote from Edison! What we found in our research is that most company strategies are eerily familiar. We like to think we’ve all invented the iPod and we are markedly different from our competitors, but in truth most customers can’t tell our products apart. What differentiates us is our employees. If they are engaged they will execute on your plan. Anyone can have a plan or vision, but only the great companies sustain high-impact execution.
Currently Stewart Friedman is a Practice Professor of Management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He is founder and director of Wharton’s Work/Life Integration Project and he founded Wharton’s Leadership Programs for both the MBA and Undergraduate divisions. Friedman was director of academic affairs for Wharton’s undergraduate division and has won numerous teaching awards; The New York Times cited the “rock star adoration” he inspires in his students. From 1999 to 2001 he was a senior executive at Ford Motor Company, where he was responsible for the company’s global leadership development strategy and programs. He was an advisor to former Vice President Al Gore and former GE CEO Jack Welch on work/life issues and was chosen by Working Mother as one America’s 25 most influential men in having made things better for working parents.
Friedman earned a BA degree at the State University of New York at Binghamton and MA and PhD degrees at the University of Michigan. His most recent work is Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life, published by Harvard Business Press – an award-winning book that reached #3 on USA Today’s national bestseller list. He heads a group that brings Total Leadership to organizations and communities worldwide in order to improve performance in all parts of life – work, home, community, and self – by finding mutual value among them.
Stewart Friedman is a business thinker I hold in the very highest regard. Here is a link to my interview of this very special educator and to my review of Total Leadership:
Here’s a link to an article Friedman posted at the Harvard Business blog earlier today (April 1, 2010), The First Couple and a New Era of Workplace Flexibility:
Here’s a link to the Total Leadership homepage: