First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Want a Great Team? 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

Bill Taylor

Here is an article written by Bill Taylor for BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.

*     *     *

Last week, in the spirit of a season in which most of us look at the end of one year, and the start of a New Year, as an opportunity to reflect on our jobs, I offered a set of questions to help you figure out whether it was time to move to a new company or even a new career. This week, in that same spirit, I’d like to address myself to leaders at every level of the organization who want to keep their best people and get the best effort out of them.

Here, then, are five make-or-break questions for leaders who want to make a fresh start for the New Year.

[Actually, here are the first three. To read the complete article, please click here.]

1. Why should great people want to work with you? The best leaders understand that the most talented performers aren’t motivated primarily by money or status. Great people want to work on exciting projects. Great people want to feel like impact players. Put simply, great people want to feel like they’re part of something greater than themselves. It’s the leader’s job to keep everyone energized and determined in a business environment that remains lackluster and uncertain.

2. Do you know a great person when you see one? It’s a lot easier to be the right kind of leader if you’re running a team or department filled with the right kind of people. Indeed, as I reflect on the best workplaces I’ve visited, I’ve come to appreciate how much time and energy leaders spend on who gets to be there. These workplaces may feel different, but the organizing principle is the same: When it comes to evaluating talent, character counts for as much as credentials. Do you know what makes your star performers tick–and how to find more performers who share those attributes?

3. Can you find great people who aren’t looking for you? It’s a common-sense insight that’s commonly forgotten: The most talented performers tend to be in jobs they like, working with people they enjoy, on projects that keep them challenged. The trick is to win over these so-called “passive” job seekers. These people may be outside your company, or they may be in a different department from inside your company, but they won’t work for you unless you work hard to persuade them to join.

*     *     *

In other words, as we approach a New Year filled with new worries, problems, and difficulties, the biggest question is the one it’s always been: Are you the kind of leader you’d want to work for?

*     *     *

William C. Taylor is cofounder of Fast Company magazine and coauthor of Mavericks at Work with Polly G. Labarre. His new book is Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself. You can follow him on Twitter at @practicallyrad.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What the C-Suite Needs to Do for Process Improvement

Brad Power

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Brad Power for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.

*     *     *

As I said in a previous post, not all companies need to improve the same processes to the same degree. But every company has some processes that are more important than others, and history has shown time and again that improving those can bring big increases in competitive advantage. Yet many companies make major investments to improve the right processes, but fail to realize the benefits.


From my experience with dozens of companies over the last 30 years, I see three factors that contribute much more than others to the failure of process improvement initiatives. The first is that organizations naturally tend to optimize within functions and departments, rather than across them. The second is that, without information on the impact of their work on company goals, frontline workers can’t properly contribute to improving them.

The third process improvement killer is this: If top managers issue edicts for improving an operation, they can achieve some short-term payback, but they can’t realize the more substantial benefits that workers can generate if they identify changes themselves.

These conditions will fester unless senior management takes three deliberate actions:

[Here’s the first.]

1. Listen to how well your organization meets customer expectations.

Because of the way they are organized, most companies are naturally good at optimizing performance within functions — marketing, sales, and operations, for instance. But substantial process improvement can’t occur unless it cuts across these functions. By focusing on the customer experience and looking for ways to improve it, managers can compel the organization to find problems and solutions which transcend the vertical boundaries.

For example, at, the $25 billion online retailer, every new senior executive must spend time in the firm’s fulfillment centers in his first year. And every two years they — including CEO Jeff Bezos — must spend two days in customer service dealing with shoppers’ problems and issues.

To focus on end-to-end customer needs, senior leaders should spend time with customers asking about service to uncover problems and solutions. However, since they usually don’t have much time for process improvement, senior leaders need to identify the company’s four to eight core processes (e.g., order fulfillment, service request resolution, product development) as seen from the customer’s perspective and assign process owners to manage them. Companies such as Shell, Sloan Valve, and Air Products have done so. Overlaying the process dimension on the functional organization creates a matrix that mitigates the dominance of the functional view. Request: How have you gotten your organization to listen for customer problems across functions, define customer-centered process performance measures, and encourage behaviors for process improvement?

*     *     *

Brad Power ( is a consultant and researcher in process innovation. His current research is on sustaining attention to process management — making improvement and adaptation a habit (even fun?). He is currently conducting research with the Lean Enterprise Institute.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gordon M. Bethune (Continental Airlines) in “The Corner Office”

Gordon M. Bethune

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 Gordon M. Bethune, chief executive of Continental Airlines from 1994 to 2004, says that “being good at your job is predicated pretty much on how the people working for you feel.”

To read the complete interview and Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.

*     *     *

Remember to Share the Stage

Bryant: What are the most important leadership lessons you’ve learned?

Bethune: I was a mechanic in the Navy. And mechanics in the Navy are like mechanics in airlines. You may have more stripes than I do, but you don’t know how to fix the airplane. You want me to fix it? You know how much faster I could fix the airplane when I wanted to, than when I didn’t want to? So I’ve always felt that if you treat me with respect, I’ll do more for you.

As I went up the ladder in the Navy, I never forgot what it’s like to be down the ladder, and that being good at your job is predicated pretty much on how the people working for you feel.

Here’s my theory: Let’s say we’re all midlevel managers, and one V.P. slot is going to open up. I’ve got 10 guys working for me, and for the last five years, every time I got any recognition, I said, “Bring them on the stage with me.” Who do you think is going to get the job? I’m going to get the job.

Bryant: How did you put together the team back in the early 1990s to turn around Continental Airlines?

Bethune: I hired the best people. The sickest patients need the best doctors, so you can’t skimp on this stuff. I took the 20 top guys and I said: “I’ll create a bonus plan so that if we hit these numbers, I get paid and you get paid. And either all of us are going to get paid, or nobody’s getting paid.” And I never missed.

Bryant: How do you hire people?

Bethune: The really good people want autonomy — you let me do it, and I’ll do it. So I told the people I recruited: “You come in here and you’ve got to keep me informed, but you’re the guy, and you’ll make these decisions. It won’t be me second-guessing you. But everybody’s going to win together. We’re part of a team, but you’re going to run your part.” That’s all they want. They want a chance to do it.

Bryant: How did you decide whom to keep and whom to let go?

Bethune: What I’m going to do is take a look at your performance. Then I’ll ask, how are we keeping you from doing your job? But you know, if it’s not the old equipment that’s to blame, and it’s you, I’ll find that out pretty quickly.

You have to hire people with good judgment. That’s No. 1. If they have it, whatever they’re put in, they’ll get good at it. Whatever comes up, you’ll take care of it based on the information, because you’d have the judgment to say, “Now, this is probably the right thing to do.” You don’t have to be an expert. So, pick good guys, give them the training they need and let them use their own judgment.

Bryant: That’s pretty subjective.

Bethune: You know it when you see it. And so you’ve got to click. Somebody who knows what they’re doing, who has a good track record, they come across as very articulate, bright and looking for a challenge — that’s absolutely my kind of hire.

Bryant: Talk about how you communicated with employees.

Bethune: I did a weekly voice mail — every week for 10 years, a three- to five-minute message. Every week I’d tell them what was going on. And we had a daily update with our stock price, our on-time performance, who did what to whom in our industry. So the employees always kind of knew what was going on. They had direct access to me, and direct access to the information.

And we never lied. You don’t lie to your own doctor. You don’t lie to your own attorney, and you don’t lie to your employees. And if you never lie, then when it hits the fan, and somebody says you’re wrong — you can say, “No, I’m not,” and they’ll believe you.

Bryant: When you were C.E.O., did you develop certain tricks for managing your time?

Bethune: If I had a flight at 2, I’d probably never get to the airport later than 12:30. I’d spend an hour just going down to the crew room. That’s how I met a lot of people. That’s how I was very visible. When you actually take the time to go over to somebody’s office and personally thank them — whether their office is in a cockpit of an airplane, or in a break room — that’s an actual manifestation of interest in them. You need to take the time to show the people around you who work for you that you’re interested in them. So I would schedule my time like that.

The best compliment I ever heard happened one Christmas. I always went out to the airport on holidays, and always made sure that I was there and I’d thank people for giving up their holiday to work. We’d go down to the break room. I’d always eat down in the break room where the food was being passed out.

I went to sit down at this big long table with these two guys, and I said, “Anybody sitting here?”

And one of them said to the other: “I told you he’d be here. Give me my $10.”

He had bet that guy $10 that I’d show up.

*     *     *

Adam Bryant

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 Sunday Business section and on that he started in March 2009. To contact him, please click here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Business Confidential: A book review by Bob Morris

Business Confidential: Lessons for Corporate Success from Inside the CIA
Peter Earnest and Maryann Karinch
AMACOM (2010)

Although this book was co-authored by Peter Earnest and Maryann Karinch, Earnest serves as narrator as he draws upon a wealth of experience during 36 years with the Central Intelligence Agency, most of it in the Agency’s National Clandestine Service (NCS). He also served on active duty with the United States Marines. Presumably Karinch’s role was to assist with gathering, evaluating, selecting, and then organizing the real-world information on which the book is based. At least to some extent, the co-authors’ collaborative efforts resemble those who work together in NCS and, in fact, they resemble the collaborative efforts in any other organization with strategic objectives such as these:

1. Identifying information needs
2. Determining their relative importance
3. Locating and obtaining the information needed
4. Evaluating, correlating, integrating, and disseminating it
5. Revising and updating the information as well as the system within which it is processed

At the conclusion of Chapters 2-12, Earnest and Karinch provide a summary of key points, framed in different ways: as a question (the “right qualities” of an effective case officer in Chapter 2), as checklists (“Twin Necessities: Continuing Training and Education” in Chapter 4), or as recommendations (“Deliberately Shaping Your Image” in Chapter 9). In fact, throughout the book the reader is provided with dozens of such devices that will facilitate, indeed accelerate periodic review of key points later.

Large organizations already have extensive resources committed to achieve the aforementioned strategic objectives. This book will help them to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their systems and initiatives. The material in Chapter 3,for example, will help to recruit better candidates, interview them more thoroughly, and then get them off to a faster start once in place.

That said, leaders in all organizations (whatever their size and nature may be) will receive valuable information, insights, and advice that can help them to formulate and then implement programs, procedures, and policies to strengthen organizational core competencies in areas such as situation analysis, decision-making, setting (and adjusting) priorities, research on competitive marketplace (i.e. identifying unmet needs, eliminating vulnerabilities, leveraging advantages), contingency planning (e.g. scenarios), crisis management, and leadership development.

One final point: With all due respect to knowing what needs to be done as well as knowing how and when to do it, ultimate success depends on execution. Thomas Edison said it best: “Vision without execution is hallucination.” This is what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton have in mind when warning executives about what they characterize as “the knowing-doing gap.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Managing the Support Staff Identity Crisis

Ranjay Gulati

In an article written for the Harvard Business School Working Knowledge online, Ranjay Gulati points out that employees not connected directly to profit and loss can suffer from a collective “I-am-not-strategic” identity crisis. Gulati suggests that business managers allow so-called support function employees to become catalysts for change. Key concepts include:

Marketers, human resources managers, finance managers, and other so-called support function employees often have trouble defining their worth because their jobs are not directly tied to profit and loss—which is how companies often gauge success.

As such, they tend to view themselves as overhead, and they paradoxically try to justify their existence by falling into adversarial policing roles in an attempt to cut costs for the company.

Business managers should encourage these employees to view themselves not just as support functions that police other departments but as catalysts for new ideas and company growth.

Here’s my own take:

1. Members of an organization’s supprt staff frequently feel treated like mushrooms: kept in the dark and fed manure.

2. They will not become actively and constructively engaged unless they (a)  feel appreciated, (b) see the value of the work they do, (c) are consulted about how to do it, (d) understand how what they do helps their organization to achieve its strategic objectives, and (e) respect and trust their supervisor.

3. It is imerative to Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!

*     *     *

Ranjay Gulati is the Jaime and Josefina Chua Tiampo Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.

To check out more Working Knowledge from Ranjay Gulati, please click here.

To visit his HBS research page, please click here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , | Leave a comment

A Quote for the Day from Seth Godin – It Always Comes Back to Work Ethic

From Seth Godin’s blog:

The first rule of doing work that matters
Go to work on a regular basis.
In short: show up.

It always, always comes back to work ethic.  It takes time — lots of time — over the long haul — to be successful.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , | Leave a comment



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 414 other followers

%d bloggers like this: