Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Interest or Commitment: Knowing the Difference Could Change the Way You Manage

One of my clients recently sent me this quote from Peter Drucker that has had me reflecting on its true message and how it is applied, especially in business:

“There is a difference between interest and commitment. When you are interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstances permit. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.”

For me, being interested implies a passive mindset whereas commitment seems active, which is confirmed by dictionary definitions: “the trait of sincere and steadfast fixity of purpose”. While interest is associated with curiosity about someone or something, commitment is the “act of binding yourself (intellectually or emotionally) to a course of action.” Interest is more cerebral perhaps while commitment is both cerebral and visceral. Isn’t commitment what we want and need in our organizations to be successful? When leaders talk about connecting to the ‘heart and the mind’ aren’t they referring to commitment?

I have a few thoughts on how to listen for and instill commitment day-to-day in our businesses:

Strategy: is business strategy a story that inspires people to bind themselves to the direction in which you want to go?

Leadership: before employees are committed, leaders have to demonstrate their steadfast fixity of purpose. It’s a trait not a slogan (“We are committed to our employees.” “We are committed to our customers.”)

Culture: is the business environment a community that binds people together to achieve a common purpose or a federation of possibly interesting activities?

Employees: is the hiring process geared more toward uncovering interests than discovering commitment?

Customers: do we expect commitment from our customers while only being interested in what they can do for us?

The late Peter Drucker’s ideas and writing continue to provide enduring lessons of what motivates people and moves organizations toward a higher level of performance. As I said to my client as we exchanged emails, Drucker was a no nonsense thinker who understood the duality of our 'heart and mind' selves.

Does anyone have a favorite Drucker thought?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"If You Can't Explain in Plain English What You're Doing, You're Probably Doing Something Wrong"

Many of us are guilty of it. Using multisyllabic words, acronyms and jargon to explain our ideas. The quote in the title is from the late Alfred Kahn, an economist who loved words as much as numbers. To the listener or reader this type of doublespeak comes off as smug and annoying. Is this code for “we are in a club that knows what you don’t”?

For those who are trying to convey important ideas and thoughts, it’s downright counterproductive. If your audience doesn’t understand your meaning, what’s the likelihood that you will get what you want from the exchange?

I know, sometimes we just forget who is in on our jargon and acronyms; but that’s not an excuse. Do we really need to rename books “reading containers” as the VP of Amazon Kindle did recently? Is it more clever to describe a strategy to grow rapidly as being “in a delivery window for new growth”, which is what Royal Dutch Shell has done? Is being opaque a tactic to confuse the competition or the analysts? Heaven only knows what employees and shareholders make of this type of statement. More importantly who can engage with it?

Alfred Kahn probably had the best advice on the topic: “If you can’t describe what your model says in plain English without provoking derisive laughter, it probably doesn’t say anything of value.” Perhaps it sounds somewhat harsh but most of us who write and speak for a living probably could use a wake-up call from time-to-time.

So, the next time you have to present to or communicate with those not in your Acronymic Jargon Club, think about the objective of the exercise before you unleash HIPPA, CRM, BI, up-skilling, Title VI, VOC and the thousands of other “welcome-to-my-exclusive-world” concepts on an unsuspecting audience.

For a cringe-worthy read of other verbal and written disasters, I offer Lucy Kellaway’s article, My Awards for Management Guff on It just makes me wonder how we got this way and whether there is any therapy for it.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

To Prune or Not to Prune? It's Not Only For Gardens

I’m a wanna-be gardener; so I listen avidly almost every Saturday to a popular local radio talk show about gardening. Last week, a caller offered three reasons for pruning and he suggested that these reasons apply to every day living, too.

So, we prune in a garden:

To protect health
To encourage a different direction
To promote growth

I used to be afraid of pruning; scared I’d forever damage the shape and dimensions of trees that were planted long before I arrived. I’ve learned, though, to step back and look at my subject from its totality and to see limbs that didn’t survive a winter storm or that were growing against others and would eventually cause disease. With fewer boughs and branches, more light reaches the interior and making the cut at the right place encourages growth in the right direction. The future shape of the tree is determined by my own eye, hand and perspective.

Not to belabor this metaphor too long, but the gardener had the right idea, about trees -- and people and businesses, too. Here are my thoughts on the business side:

To Protect Health:
  • Have the right tools to do the job and get advice and input when you need it.
  • Use your wisdom developed through experience and maintain the courage of your convictions. Then, make an informed decision.
  • Look at the shape of your organization: is it hindering the way things need to be done today?

To Encourage a Different Direction:
  • Take a step back and view the totality of your business or operation. Don’t wait until there is a crisis or an economic meltdown to act. You get no points for that.
  • Set a course with your strategy, have a back-up plan and review often. Things happen too fast to set anything in stone.

To Promote Growth:
  • Shine a light on your internal processes, management practices, customer relationships and organizational culture. What is holding you back?
  • To know where you’re going, you need to know where you’ve been and where you are. It’s going to take a lot of good data to provide insight that leads to great business decisions. This is the time to bring Business Intelligence from the IT department to the entire operation.

What kind of business gardener are you? Are you promoting health; steering a new direction and encouraging growth? It's a great time of year to start pruning.