August 27, 2010
The Shallows 5: Google’s Narrow Vision
Over a hundred years ago Frederick Winslow Taylor took a stopwatch to a steel plant in Philadelphia and changed the industrial world. By timing every step and movement in the process he came up with the one, most efficient way each worker should work. Productivity exploded, and manufacturers across the country eagerly adopted his methods. Taylor saw humans as extensions of the machine.
In The Shallows, Nicholas Carr contends that “Google’s Silicon Valley headquarters—the Googleplex—is the internet’s high church, and the religion practiced inside its walls is Taylorism” (p. 150). But at Google humans are extensions of a very particular kind of machine—the computer.Continue reading "The Shallows 5: Google’s Narrow Vision"
August 5, 2010
What's My Motivation Here?
Many years ago I was talking to a freelance proofreader who was several weeks late getting a project back to me. She chronicled the various issues in her life that were keeping her from completing the job. She concluded by saying, "I really want to get this done. I feel extremely guilty I am so late."
I replied, "Well, that just proves what a poor motivator guilt is."
There was a very long, very silent pause at the other end.Continue reading "What's My Motivation Here?"
February 5, 2010
Meetings Don't Get Work Done
"Meetings don't get work done. Meetings create work."
I've said that so many times I've almost convinced myself that I originated the aphorism. But probably it came from my predecessor, Jim Sire. (Unless he stole it from someone else.)Continue reading "Meetings Don't Get Work Done"
November 23, 2009
Is Professionalism a Dirty Word?
My wife, Phyllis, was assigned the task of giving a talk on professionalism. She asked me, "What would you say?"
Professionalism can have negative connotations--being artificial or phony. I suppose for some that's what it is. But that's not how I think of it.Continue reading "Is Professionalism a Dirty Word?"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:39 AM
November 13, 2009
Years ago Steve Stuckey, a colleague in InterVarsity, told me a story about Campus by the Sea on Catalina Island, off the coast of Southern California. Rattlesnakes have been on the island for time out of mind. In the mid-1930s, some enterprising folk brought in wild pigs to keep the snake population under control. The plan worked great. Fewer snakes.
But then the wild pigs started to roam all over, invading campgrounds and other areas. So some enterprising folk used a dog, Cinder, to keep the pigs at bay. The plan worked great. Fewer pigs.
But Cinder left lots of little presents lying around, making things very unpleasant for those at the campground. So some workers were given the task of cleaning up after the dogs. The plan worked great. Fewer presents for people to step in.
But then the pigs got the better of Cinder. Within weeks of Cinder's retirement, the pigs were back.
All of this took place over the course of decades, with one group of leaders not being fully aware of what previous groups had done before to solve the problems.
Many lessons could be learned from this tale, I'm sure, not the least that a judicious knowledge of the history of your enterprise can come in handy. But the axiom I draw was this: Managers don't solve problems. They just trade one set of problems for another.
I've found this to be a helpful perspective when trying to fix something on the job. It makes me look at the downside of any solution--no matter how elegant a solution may seem. And then I try to decide if I can live with the downside or not.
If customers keep asking for certain information you don't have readily, you might put in place a system to gather and store the data, and make it easily available. But almost inevitably that system will take lots of work to maintain and perhaps distract employees from other tasks that are also important. Can you live with that?
Stuckey's Axiom is a corollary of the Law of Unintended Consequences. The trick, of course, is to do your best to anticipate the unanticipated. But knowing that no solution will be perfect, that there will always be new problems ahead is, as they say, half the battle.
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:05 AM
October 22, 2009
Celebrating Who We Are
This week we hold our annual off-site, all-day meeting for everyone in the company. It's something we've been doing for almost twenty-five years. We close down the reception desk and warehouse, shut off the phones, put emails on automatic reply, and bring in employees who work in other parts of the country.
What do we do?Continue reading "Celebrating Who We Are"
September 9, 2009
When I read a business book, I'm often looking for the hot, sexy idea that puts a new spin on things, the innovative perspective that helps me see things in a new way, the dead-on research that makes a compelling case all by itself. Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney by Lee Cockerell is none of these things.
July 15, 2009
The Art of Saying No
Planning is deciding what you will do. Yes? No, that's only half right. In planning, whether personal or organizational, some of the most important decisions you can make are what you will say no to, what you decide ahead of time you will not do. It's all too easy to simply respond to requests or ideas from others, to be reactive. The problem is that others then set your agenda, not you.Continue reading "The Art of Saying No"
April 13, 2009
Leading by Listening
Back in the day I was a competitive, wide-ranging, young trivia nerd. (Now I'm a competitive, wide-ranging, old trivia nerd.) So I became a contestant on a local TV quiz show for area high school teams based on the then popular TV show College Bowl. Creatively enough, our competition was called High School Bowl.Continue reading "Leading by Listening"
December 16, 2008
Get Them Talking
Senator Joe Biden famously monopolized the time allotted to him in the 2006 confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. In the fifty minutes allotted to Biden, he spoke about 5,600 words to Alito's 2,000.
Biden was not alone. Of the fifteen senators questioning Alito at the hearing, only two (both Democrats) let Alito talk more than they did. When there is a desire to get as much information about Supreme Court nominees as possible, what the majority of senators did is certainly a counterintuitive approach. No doubt Alito was happy to let the minutes tick by without having to say anything that could potentially get him into trouble.
There are lots of wrong ways to interview a prospective employee and a few right ways. One wrong way is to talk too much. The goal of an interview is to get candidates to talk and talk and talk.
So here's point number one: The point of a job interview is to get a window into what kind of person this is you are thinking about hiring. Within limits (some of them legal), I think it's fine to get candidates talking about almost anything. Resist the temptation to talk about the company, the nature of the job, your own pet peeves or anything else. Your job is to get the candidate to talk.
On to point number two: Focus the discussion. Obviously, at some point in the conversation you want to zero in on the job. Since not all questions are created equal, how can we stay on task?
Assuming customer interaction would be an important part of the job, "How would you handle a customer complaint?" is pretty good. But a better approach is, "Tell me about a time you received a customer complaint and how you handled it." With the first question, candidates can imagine ideal scenarios. But the second request is more revealing. What did they actually do? What strategies did they use? What attitudes did they show?
What people say they actually did in the past is a better predictor of the future than what they imagine they will do in the future.
If you want to hire the best person to fill a position in your department, let the candidates do the talking. If you want to talk, maybe you could go into politics.
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:30 AM
October 21, 2008
The Frenetic, Jagged Pace
Last week I worked away from the office. I had a project that required large chunks of uninterrupted time. There was no way I was going to find that at work. So I left.
I’ve said before that my job is to be interrupted. And it is. As a manager, one of my primary tasks is to help others get their jobs done. Sometimes they can’t proceed until they have an answer to a question or a piece of information. My job is to grease the wheels of their workload so they can be as productive as possible. But sometimes I’m the one that needs to get something done. So twice in the last six months I’ve taken a week to work alone.
Even though it was work, just the different rhythm was refreshing. (And sometimes getting away is a source of great new ideas.) I find that emails, papers piling on my desk, phone calls, meetings, people at my office door—the frenetic, jagged pace of one hasty thing after another wears me down. Too often I have woken up in the middle of the night and not been able to go back to sleep for an hour or two—even when there are no major problems worrying me.
The feverish demands of work are not likely to diminish. They won’t go away. A fragile economy can only make us feel greater pressure to work harder and longer and faster. But we can control our pace rather than let it control us. Limits and boundaries and discipline are the tricks of that trade.
I have a couple friends who simply don’t do email—one because he won’t and the other because he can’t. (A true troglodyte.) They have the luxury, however, of having assistants through whom all their email come. Not all of us are so fortunate. But I can choose to limit when I do email at two or three times during the day rather than have it open and active every minute of every day.
What about when I'm on the road? The technology exists, of course, for me to be able to check my work email while I'm away from the office--at a conference, for example, or working offsite. But I've deliberately set a boundary by not asking our IT department to set me up with this capability. I don't want to be wired (or, more accurately, wireless) 24/7.
I don’t text. I don’t twitter. Maybe someday I will, but I hope I’ll have limits on them if I do.
September 2, 2008
Observe, Don’t Explain
“Show, don’t tell.” That advice has been given to writers as often as laptops have been turned on. Robert McKee repeats the advice in Story, his classic text on writing screenplays. Following Aristotle's advice in Poetics, he says, “Why a man does a thing is of little interest once we see the thing he does. . . . Once the deed is done his reasons why begin to dissolve into irrelevancy” (pp. 376-77).Continue reading "Observe, Don’t Explain"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:55 PM
June 30, 2008
Not a Fire Drill
A couple of weeks ago the fire alarm went off in the office. Last year when we were doing some construction, the alarm went off frequently because of electrical work being done. But we were always given warning a day ahead of time. So this time when the alarm went off I tried to remember, Did someone alert us to this? After half a minute with the alarm still blaring, I went out in the hallway to see what was going on, as did others. Then way down the hall I saw someone gesturing wildly to get out of the building. So I said to those around me, "Let's get out." Some started for the front door--over a hundred feet away. I redirected them to the emergency exit fifteen feet away and went with them.Continue reading "Not a Fire Drill"
June 18, 2008
To Pack Rat or Not to Pack Rat
I was looking through my files the other day to remind myself what I had written to a correspondent three years ago. I needed to write again on the same topic, but I obviously wanted to do so in light of the full exchange. I found the copy of my letter just where it should have been, in the corporate files. What I didn't find was my correspondent's response. round!Continue reading "To Pack Rat or Not to Pack Rat"
June 9, 2008
Minimizing the Annual Review Fear Factor
It's annual review time here. We operate on a July 1 to June 30 fiscal year, so this is the time each employee gets a performance review for the year. There's always a certain amount of trepidation in anticipation of such a review--both for the employee and the supervisor. One of the best ways, I think, to minimize this on both sides is to make sure there are no surprises.
An employee should not hear about a problem or area of poor performance for the first time at an annual review. Supervisors doing their job should be giving continual feedback to employees throughout the year either at regularly scheduled meetings or on an as needed basis. As I've said here before, keep short accounts with folks. Don't let something simmer and stew. Be timely. Problems that fester don't go away. They just get worse. As Max De Pree says, a leader's job is to define reality and say thank you. Clearly communicating problems is one way reality is defined. You don't do any favors by being vague.
Another manager here also had a helpful suggestion when dealing with problems. He calls it making the charitable assumption. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Start by asking questions, not by making accusations. See what their perspective is first. People want to be judged by their intentions. After hearing their side, then it is appropriate that they hear your side.
Reality and charity--two good things to keep in mind together throughout the year so that the annual review is as constructive as possible for both parties.
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:17 AM
May 19, 2008
Murphy Meets St. Anthony
Well, it happened again yesterday. An editor e-mailed, wondering what I thought of his memo. I said I'd be glad to respond as soon as I got a copy. Shortly after clicking "send" I was pawing through my in-basket and saw the memo which had been sitting there for a month!Continue reading "Murphy Meets St. Anthony"
April 3, 2008
Those who are biblically literate know that Genesis doesn’t say what kind of fruit Adam and Eve ate. No matter. Centuries of artists have known it was an apple. An apple with a bite out of it. Thus evil entered the world.
So the recent Wired Magazine article by Leander Kahney should come as no surprise.Continue reading "Evil/Genius"
March 18, 2008
Good News, Bad News
When Chris got the report back about the manuscript, he knew it wouldn’t be good news for the author. While there was much to commend, the end result was that the whole manuscript would have to be rewritten. It had simply been done from the wrong perspective and wouldn’t work for the intended audience. And it wasn’t just one report that came to this conclusion. It was three.
So as the editor, Chris knew what he had to do. He called the author and asked if they could meet and talk about the reports. A time and date were set. When they got together, Chris was able to smile warmly and genuinely express what he appreciated and then deliver the no doubt unwelcome news that a large amount of work yet remained. He closed with appreciation again for the author’s hard work already.
The editor was following a principle I heard many years ago that applies well beyond the realm of editing: The worse the news, the more personal the communication should be; the better the news, the more permanent the communication should be.
So if you’ve got bad news to deliver, do it in person or (if that is not possible) on the phone. If it is good news, do it in e-mail or (preferably and if time allows) a handwritten note.
The message of good news offered in writing allows the receiver to reread it and come back to the compliment, word of praise, comment of thanks or report of good results more than once. It has a lasting, tangible quality that makes it feel more permanent. If it is spoken, it can easily fade from memory. Certainly we often want to--and it is appropriate to--get good news to people quickly, and in person is often best for that. But following that up with a note is a good idea.
With bad news, it is tempting to fire off an e-mail or letter and not have to face the unhappy recipient so directly. That may help you not feel so bad, but it won’t help the person you are contacting. With the personal touch, people are more likely to be responsive to what you have to say. At the least, one hopes they will feel they were treated with some respect.
The personal meeting between Chris and the author made all the difference. Certainly, that was not what the author wanted to hear. But because it was delivered in a personal, human way, the message was palatable. Work on revising the book began very soon.
March 12, 2008
Hiring Haste Makes Workplace Waste
It’s always a challenge when an employee leaves unexpectedly. She finds another job. He moves because his spouse took a position out of state. But when that employee was especially excellent or in a particularly critical role, it makes things even tougher. There’s work that needs to be done--important work, work with crucial deadlines looming and no one else to fill in. The pressure to hire and hire quickly works on you, gnaws at you, weighs on you. The temptation is to find the first warm body you can and throw that person at the work. I have one word for you: Resist.
One of the easiest and most common hiring mistakes is to hire a candidate you have doubts about just because you are desperate to fill a position. I don’t think I have ever seen this work. As a manager, you are trading a seemingly short-term fix for a long-term problem.
It’s hard, but the best thing you can do is wait until you have found the right person. It will be hard on you and the rest of the team to be short-handed for a while. But it will be easier on you and on the team if you find someone who is able to pull his or her own weight in the long run.
Otherwise you’ll have team members who resent having to pick up the pieces for the new employee who just can’t seem to get the job done or get it done right. And you will spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get the new employee up to speed, correcting the deficiencies and working through tensions in the team. As a result, the work might even be done as slowly as if the position were still vacant.
Ultimately, you will probably have to work through a way to help this person move on to another job, voluntarily or not. That is never a happy prospect, nor is it quick. Once again, you’ve lost time and effort on the important work that needs to be done.
Take the time to hire well the first time, and save yourself time, money and grief.Continue reading "Hiring Haste Makes Workplace Waste"
January 21, 2008
Nobody Likes Planning
Corporate planning is the butt of many jokes and the bane of many managers. But as folks in InterVarsity have said for years, "Aim at nothing and you are sure to hit it." Tom Woll offers 35 pages on planning in his book Publishing for Profit, a book on which I've been offering a serial review. Woll covers a lot of territory. Here are some highlights:Continue reading "Nobody Likes Planning"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:56 AM
November 29, 2007
Getting on the Bus
My friend Steve worked as a school bus driver to help pay his way through seminary. His first year on the job was the horror story you would imagine--chaos, unruliness, insolence, anarchy. His second year on the job was a model of order, civility, respect and humanity. What made the difference?Continue reading "Getting on the Bus"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 12:27 PM
October 26, 2007
September 20, 2007
Being a Good Boss
Firing people is probably the worst experience a supervisor can go through. You want to avoid it if at all possible. But the best way to avoid it is to confront it directly. That's what my friend Brian taught me. Here's how to take as much emotion, subjectivity and surprise out of the equation as possible, while treating people with dignity.Continue reading "Being a Good Boss"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 1:43 PM
September 18, 2007
Sometimes Supervisors Are Just Too Nice
Why are people so often fired badly? Sometimes, of course, the boss is just a jerk. But many times well-intentioned supervisors just don't know what to do.Continue reading "Sometimes Supervisors Are Just Too Nice"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 11:11 AM
September 12, 2007
The Joy of Interruptions
Yesterday I was asked
--what subtitle we should have on an upcoming book
September 11, 2007
"I Love to Fire People"
More than one friend of mine has been fired from a job. I’m not talking about being downsized, going out of business, being a victim of cutbacks, being laid off or, as our friends on the other side of the Pond say, being made redundant. I’m talking fired, dismissed, sacked, given a pink slip. Maybe I just hang out with the wrong people.Continue reading ""I Love to Fire People""
August 29, 2007
The Art of Telecommuting
Almost twenty years ago, before it was fashionable, IVP's first telecommuter, Dan Reid, set up shop two thousand miles from the home office. We thought it was an incredibly high-tech arrangement since we could communicate by mail, by phone, by fax and by CompuServe--a company that gave us the amazing capability of allowing two PCs (one in Seattle and one in Downers Grove) to exchange data and files via the phone lines. It was whacked-out futuristic in our minds. We actually managed in this primitive arrangement, if you can believe it, for a full five years before the internet connected us all in 1995.
Since then any number of IVP employees have entered the ranks of the telecommuting. But it takes more than technology to make telecommuting successful. Here's some of the factors we've kept in mind that have helped it work for us.Continue reading "The Art of Telecommuting"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 4:23 PM
August 24, 2007
I still vividly remember the company picnics our family would go to when I was young. At the end of August a few hundred people related to the business my dad worked for would gather in a city park in Minneapolis for food and games. A huge cauldron (my childhood memory tells me it was like a 15-foot metal watering troff) had a fire built under it with dozens and dozens of ears of fresh Minnesota corn being boiled. Everyone would gather for Bingo, with each winner taking home a silver dollar. I prized the few I managed to win. The sights and smells of the whole event still linger with me.Continue reading "Company Picnic"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 1:42 PM
August 8, 2007
For Those with Management Talent
OK, is there anything I don’t like about First, Break All the Rules? Yes. The title.Continue reading "For Those with Management Talent"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 5:22 AM
August 1, 2007
Why Do Employees Stay?
We measure all kinds of things in our organizations—sales, profit, growth, productivity, square footage and so on. But Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman say that there’s no measuring stick for a manager’s ability to find, focus and keep talented people. They try to fill in the gap by identifying the key questions every employee asks, consciously or unconsciously (pp. 43ff.).Continue reading "Why Do Employees Stay?"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:09 AM