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5 Ways to Inspire Millennials at Work

 

Business leaders, entrepreneurs and other professionals often bemoan the apparent lack of commitment, loyalty and ambition present in Generation Y employees. Those 80s and 90s babies buck workplace convention. They talk back. They want to dress differently, are bored easily and come across as wanting life handed to them on a platter. Why is it that Millennials seem to want to frustrate us by constantly asking ‘Why?’

Isn’t this much the same way each new generation has been perceived by the one before it? How many lectures did you hear during childhood about how much ‘easier’ things are now? Didn’t your grandparents go on similar rants with your parents? Could it be that Millennials are unwittingly challenging us to raise our standards?

The truth is that each generation gets progressively smarter, stronger, more creative. “More entitled, too!”, you might add. Perhaps. Technology is advancing at a mind-numbing rate. We’re all for advancement, but what really bothers the old-fogies is that many of the old rules don’t apply. We find it incongruously unfair that flip-flop clad software geeks who skateboard to work are changing the world daily.

How can we bridge the generational chasm? How can we positively influence the young adults who don’t happen to be Silicon Valley billionaires, but turn up somewhat disheveled and slightly late to work each day? How do we engage the Snapchat generation? More importantly, how do we start inspiring Gen Ys to start focusing their energies on developing the skills necessary to make them tomorrow’s capable leaders?

I read an excellent article by Graham Winfrey titled ‘Are Millenials Giving Up on Working?‘. The article’s accompanying infographic by training firm Virtuali highlights the following disturbing statistics:

  • 66% of millennials are disengaged at work
  • 91% of millennials plan on leaving their job within 3 years

Below, I have adapted the infographic’s five points to consider for increasing engagement and inspiring leadership in Millennials:

1. To inspire leadership, be a leader

The Millennial understanding of leadership is not one that springs forth from rank or title. Gen Ys will not bestow loyalty and obedience solely on the basis of tenure or seniority. “They have no respect!”, you may say, but young people believe that respect should be earned, and that leadership is lived out in our actions every day. To be a leader in the eyes of the younger generation, demonstrate that you are worth following.

2. To inspire leadership, consistently provide development opportunities

Young people do not view training programs as perks for good performance or a rewards for good behavior. As a consequence of growing up in the information age, Millennials believe that leadership development should be a universal benefit provided by employers. Adopt this attitude and watch your younger charges begin to bloom.

3. To inspire leadership, more show; less tell 

At its most effective, learning for Millennials should be personal, relevant and enjoyed. As leaders, we should seek to provide learning opportunities every time we interact with those under our direction. Provide clear proof to those you lead that you are personally invested in their growth and development, and their engagement will begin to skyrocket.

4. To inspire leadership, perfect your communication skills

No matter how much experience you have or how many accolades decorate your office walls, it is your behavior that will cement your value and reputation in the hearts and minds of younger employees. Above technical know-how, Millennials value your ability communicate clearly, how well you listen, your receptiveness to new ideas, and how effectively you show you care. Work on honing these skills every day.

5. To inspire leadership, provide diverse work opportunities

Gen Ys crave novelty and variety, and will not be willing to give their all at workplaces that do not offer new and interesting opportunities. To young people, loyalty is a two-way street. Here’s where some creativity is required. Shake things up sometimes. Make it part of your people strategy to provide new knowledge to your people on an ongoing basis through cross-training, departmental rotations and intra-office secondments.

Please share your own experiences and ideas for inspiring and engaging younger people in the workplace. Do you find it challenging to inspire them to give of their best? In what ways are you actively creating robust succession paths for leadership?

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10 Ways to Spot A Weak Finance Executive

My career in finance and accounting began in 1997 when I landed a job as an Audit Associate with Ernst & Young. In the years since, I’ve worked with three of the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms, as well as Financial Controller and CFO in several industries before removing my accounting hat to take on the role of General Manager.

The expectations of the role of the chief accountant, finance manager, financial controller, finance director and chief financial officer have evolved over the years. The accounting profession is no longer the realm of ‘bean counters’ in dark, dingy offices piled high with papers and over-flowing with adding machine tape. Today’s accounting professional is no longer just an administrator or cost cutter, but a part of the heartbeat of the organization’s success.

More than ever, there is an increasing demand for highly skilled accounting professionals. Today’s finance executive is a key partner in the business, creating value and providing a high return on investment. Top performers expand their repertoire of skills beyond the purely financial to become true leaders within their organization. Unfortunately, weak financial managers still outnumber the excellent ones. Here are ten ways to spot them:

1. Weak finance executives frequently miss deadlines

Ineffective finance managers forget that for financial reports to be effective, they must be provided to decision-makers in a timely manner. The most basic requirements of finance managers are that they have fundamental accounting skills and the ability to provide timely reports by effectively managing the finance department. Strong financial executives work well under pressure to produce timely, reliable and accurate information.

2. Weak finance executives confuse working hard with delivering results

Finance is a demanding field that often requires working long hours. Ineffective finance professionals seem to get addicted to putting in long hours without tying the strenuous effort to tangible goals and visible improvements. Excellent finance managers put in the work required, but become noticeably more efficient over time. They focus on adding value and becoming better at what they do, rather than just burning the midnight oil.

3. Weak finance executives are stuck behind their desks

Have you ever met a chief accountant who lives behind his or her desk? While the finance function crosses all areas of the business, ineffective financial executives are out of touch with the day-to-day happenings of the organization. Failing to understand the importance of having “a finger on the pulse”, ineffective finance managers do not assert themselves as leaders, they fail to expose themselves to the front line, and miss the opportunity to get to know others. As a result, ineffective financial executives find themselves ignored by both colleagues and line staff.

4. Weak finance executives do not have the support of the GM or CEO

Your financial controller might be a poor one if he or she has not developed a strong relationship with the boss. The relationship between a financial executive and the general manager  is one of the most critically important to the success of the organization. Skilled finance professionals make it a priority to win the trust of leaders and make sure that there is open and frequent communication.

5. Weak finance executives are poor communicators

Poor financial executives lack well-developed communication skills. They often appear uncomfortable interacting with others and fail to engage effectively with people at all levels of the organization. Skillful financial executives clearly and concisely communicate the financial performance of the company and the availability of resources both orally and in writing. They are also not afraid of delivering bad news and will provide information to bosses and shareholders without having to be asked.

6. Weak finance executives have a limited understanding of the business

Your finance director might be a poor one if he doesn’t have a solid understanding of all aspects of the business. A common red flag of an inept accountant is a failure to grasp critical processes and non-financial drivers in areas such as sales, production or marketing.  An effective finance executive will have well-developed commercial skills. He or she will be intimately familiar with functioning of the various cycles in the business, their strengths and weakness, as well as their relative levels of criticality to success.

7. Weak finance executives fail to attract, build and retain effective teams

An excellent finance director is only as good as the team supporting him or her. Many executives fail to remember the importance of attracting the best and the brightest people. They fail to create a nurturing environment which challenges young professionals. Many managers expect hard work from their junior accountants without providing them with coaching, rigorous development plans and a clear path for advancement. When ineffective finance managers fail to build loyalty and trust, they find themselves suffering the disrupting cycle of losing key people, rehiring and retraining.

8. Weak finance executives provide poor cash management

While every company encounters liquidity challenges at some point, companies with unfit accountants encounter frequent difficulties meeting important financial obligations, paying key suppliers, and missing payroll. A strong financial executive will think ahead in order to skillfully juggle scarce funds, negotiate with suppliers and perform miracles to ensure that staff are never paid late.

9. Weak finance executives fail to appropriately challenge the management team

Inept CFOs often find themselves intimidated by their colleagues, and allow them to get away with murder. Having the self-confidence to appropriately challenge fellow executives about targets, variances and overall performance is a critical requirement of the skillful financial executive. Incapable accountants demonstrate shaky leadership qualities and lack the gravitas to hold the executive team accountable.

10. Weak finance executives fail to add value 

Weak accountants are undisciplined, pay insufficient attention to detail and often produce low-quality reports which are riddled with errors. Ineffective finance managers have the under-developed interpretive skills which result in poor forecasts based on faulty models with incorrect assumptions. A sound finance executive is fiercely committed to achieving results. He or she is passionately engaged in achieving the goals of the company, and this hunger drives excellence in his or her work. Competent financial executives are highly disciplined, fluent with their numbers, able to think strategically and have the ability to translate plans into effective action.

Here’s a short version of this blog post as a Slideshare presentation:

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11 Tips for Brand New Senior Managers

You’ve finally gotten the promotion you’ve dreamed of. You’re finally in charge. Being the new corporate head, division chief or general manager will be harder than you could have imagined. Here are ten tips to help you negotiate this unknown territory and remain grounded, while achieving the results you can be proud of.

1. Check Your Ego at the Door

You’ve gotten to where you are because you’re a superstar. You are brilliant. You worked harder than your colleagues and got promoted faster, too. Maybe you had passable technical skills, but excellent networking and people skills and brown-nosed your way to the top. None of that will help you now. It’s not about you any more. It’s no longer just your career. Your performance will now be dependent on the results you achieve through your team.

2. Listen

Companies usually appoint new leaders out of need. Perhaps the old CEO retired, or the previous division head was fired. Now it’s on you to achieve those unrealistic results. Even if you have been with the company for years, you must go in with a clear mind and survey the territory with fresh eyes. You may be tempted to believe you already have all the answers. Resist that temptation. Pretend you know nothing, and listen. Listen to your managers and direct reports. Listen to your line staff. Listen to your suppliers. Listen to your customers. Listen. Create forums where people will be frank with you. Take it all in, and fill a brand new slate.

3. Craft A Vision

After taking the helm, you will be expected to chart the course for the organization. You need to decide where you want to go, and the strategies you will use to get there. Your people need something to believe in, but you have to believe it first. Craft an inspirational and aspirational vision that will serve as your company’s proverbial ‘pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night’.

4. Create Buy-In

Regardless of how much talent and previous success, industry expertise and respect you’ve gained before taking up your new job, the troops will not automatically become loyal followers of you or your vision. You will have to earn it. You will have to win them over little by little and day by day by being consistent, passionate and respectful. Tell them the “why” behind the vision, and they will hear their own concerns reflected. Start with your leaders first, then communicate and over-communicate the vision company wide to make sure that the message does not become distorted.

5. Be Knowledgeable

To be successful, you will need to have a thorough understanding of all direct and indirect financial drivers: revenue streams, the cash and inventory cycle, direct costs and administrative expenses and operating and customer service key performance indicators (KPIs). You need to gain a thorough knowledge of these indicators to set the right goals and targets for your department heads. Creating a culture of reporting will be key. Your team should know what their KPIs are and how they are doing compared to target on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis, and so should you.

6. Be Independent

It’s lonely at the top. Certain members of your team will try to ingratiate themselves to become favorites or be granted special privileges. Resist it at all costs. Have zero tolerance for this type of suck up behavior. Do not compromise your independence. Failing to do so will have you paying favors indefinitely. It will also create and over-politicized culture, and will earn you the mistrust of the less-favored and potentially more principled and hard-working team members.

7. Nurture Your People

You won’t be a leader if no one is following you. While fostering cronies and gofers is not acceptable, you still need to nurture your team. It is important to develop a mentoring relationship with each of your key players so that you can help them be their best. Theodore Roosevelt once penned the wise words: “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

8. Foster Accountability

Being a nurturing leader does not mean you will stand for substandard performance. Your aim should be to continually get better results as they perfect their skills. You should have zero tolerance policy for excuses and finger-pointing. When someone comes to you with a problem, require that they also come armed with a suggested solution. When one of your direct reports makes a mistake, he or she should quickly accept responsibility, suggest a possible way out, and move on.

9. Celebrate Wins, Even Small Ones

While driving hard for improvement, innovation and accountability, it is important to take note of the successes. Failing to notice even small improvements will leave your team feeling unappreciated and will lead to frustration and burn out. Find ways to systematically celebrate wins and ensure that you apply it consistently. Your team will thank you for it.

10. Focus on Continuous Communication

Constant effective communication will be key to ensuring quality and consistent growth. Listening should be something the entire organization internalizes. Everyone’s voice is important. Create open and honest lines of communication at all levels of the organization. Make communication systemic by setting up weekly pow-wows and department meetings, regular staff polls and annual leaders’ retreats.

11. Never Stop Learning

No matter how much you know already, as a new leader, it will never be enough. Read as much as you can and keep reading. Seek out other business leaders who can mentor you and challenge you to become a better leader. Keep an open mind in all situations. Be humble. You are the boss, but develop the mindset that every single person in your organization has something they can teach you.

 

Are there any other important tips you would share to new business leaders? Feel free to share your experiences, and feedback in the comments section below. Good luck on your leadership journey!

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Considering the Balanced Scorecard Approach

“When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind…” William Thompson

As the leader of a relatively young organizational unit, I am always looking for innovative ways to measure and improve overall performance and achieve strategic goals. A few months ago, I stumbled upon the Balanced Scorecard approach.

The Balanced Scorecard Approach in a Nutshell

The Balanced Scorecard approach was developed around 1990 and a result of the extensive research of Robert Kaplan and David Norton. They developed a methodology of translating organizational strategy into a balanced framework which guides organizational energies toward achieving long-term goals. Kaplan and Norton’s framework transforms the company’s vision and strategy into a coherent set of performance measures and objectives. The system is designed to balance both short and long term desired outcomes, and hard financial measures against more intangible deliverables. In their book ‘The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action‘, they arrange performance measures into the following distinct perspectives:

  • Financial perspective
  • Customer perspective
  • Internal business process perspective
  • Learning and growth perspective

The idea of a balanced approach to developing performance strategies and achieving business goals resonates strongly with me. I am from a hard-numbers, public accounting background, and so making a profit is essential. On the other hand, I have a strong long-term vision for the company I serve. I want to make a difference in the lives of the people who use our products and services, and I want our organization not just to be a place to work, but a place that shapes the lives of its employees in a positive way.

Why Financial Measures Alone Don’t Work

More and more organizations are realizing that achieving profitability or even product and service quality is not enough to shore up the probability of long-term business success. In his book ‘Balanced Scorecard Step-by-Step: Maximizing Performance and Maintaining Results‘, Paul R. Niven gives five reasons why focusing on financial measures alone does not work:

  1. Overabundant use of financial measures is not consistent with today’s business realities. Since value resides in the ideas, relationships and cultures of people scattered throughout the firm, financial metrics alone will provide  little value in identifying opportunities with customers or employees.
  2. Financial KPIs only measure past performance, but have no predictive power for the future. Scores of great companies with excellent financial metrics virtually vanished from glory without warning.
  3. Financial statements are prepared by functional area. This approach is inconsistent with an organization’s cross-functional nature; teams come together to deliver value that is impossible to track via financial measures alone.
  4. Financial measures often sacrifice long-term success. Downsizing, for example, may provide the required short-term goals required, but may also have a hugely destructive impact on morale and the firm’s overall long-term value and future prospects.
  5. Financial measures are irrelevant to day-to-day tasks of employees at many levels of the organization. The measurement of strategic performance be interpretable in a meaningful way at every level of the organization.

Balanced Scorecard for the Win

While most companies have mission statements and vision statements, these are often no more than well-worded inspirational statements, equally as grand and unused as the foyers they are displayed in. Employees don’t understand them, managers don’t implement them, resources are not invested in achieving them; they are, in essence, devoid of meaning and impact. Rare leaders, such as Steve Jobs, do a remarkable job of keeping their companies focused on the overarching vision. In stark contrast, many companies are led astray, distracted by the alluring siren-song of ‘profit maximization’ to the detriment of their identity and purpose, and ultimately their survival.

The Balanced Scorecard approach has gained an impressive following in its twenty year history; it is estimated that up to 60 percent of the Fortune 1000 has a Balanced Scorecard in place. Indeed, the greatest argument for the Balanced Scorecard approach is its ability to bring organizational strategy to life, by interweaving a company’s definitive vision and strategy so that it is felt, understood and executed at every level of the organization.

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Leadership Lessons: Small Things Go A Long Way

Since most of us aren’t independently wealthy, we work in order to pay the bills and make steps toward building a secure financial future. If we are to do truly great work, however, we must feel both inspired and appreciated. That’s the really tough part. As the leader of a company, I spend a great deal of my time remaining committed to the part of my vision that aims to make it a great place to work. Actually, I use the word “love”. I aspire to lead in such a way that employees “love” working there.

I wrote in a previous post that employees want to feel special, to be treated like individuals, respected, and made knowledgeable. The big things, like annual staff awards are good and very necessary. However, like the played out ‘Employee of the Month’ selections, sometimes only the “stars” get noticed. Recognition begins to feel more like a popularity contest, leaving the mere mortals feeling neglected.

My management team and I have decided that while we will continue to reward excellent overall performance, we will commit ourselves to finding new ways of recognizing and celebrating the little things that happen every day. One of the very simple, and easy to implement ways we do that is using our ‘Value Board’.

The core values we have embraced are action statements, as opposed to lofty concepts. They are simple to understand, and easy to remember:

1. Do the right thing
2. Treat people right
3. Think outside the box
4. Make a difference

We encourage managers and staff alike to take the time “catch” team members living our values. On wall-mounted cork boards, we post these acts on index cards and sticky notes, as a small token of our admiration and thanks. In the hustle and bustle of the work week, with phones ringing off the hook,  customer queues and reporting deadlines, it is great to walk down the hallway and know that there are people really shining. While this simple initiative may seem corny to some, when team members look up and notice that some extra effort shown was not overlooked, but recognized and appreciated, it is priceless. Small things really do go a long way.

It is amazing how quickly the cards accumulate, as team members from every department take the time to notice others living our four core values, and shining every day. It reinforces excellence and goes a long way toward creating a culture of appreciation. We plan on taking things a step further by randomly selecting monthly prizes, to further celebrate team members who lived our values that month.

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It’s amazing how quickly the good deeds pile up!

 

I would love to hear  some of the ways in which your Company celebrates small wins and provides recognition across your organization.

 

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Leadership Lessons: Remember Everyone is Important


After a busy spate at work which lasted months, followed by a glorious week off in Toronto, I have finally gotten around to re-starting the next book on my leadership list: ‘Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney’ by Lee Cockerell. Lee Cockerell managed Walt Disney World resort operations for over ten years. He has won many leadership awards and crafted Disney’s ‘Great Leader Strategies’. “It’s not the magic that makes it work; it’s the way we work that makes it magic.” On a resort the size of San Francisco, with a staff complement of 40,000, Lee achieved one of the lowest turnover rates in the industry and created magic.

I have just finished Chapter 3 where Cockerell explores the first leadership principle – inclusion. Lee’s most important leadership lesson is not about driving for excellence or being a stickler for operational efficiency. He focuses on making people so comfortable that they always do their best. Disney’s concept of inclusion is summed up by the acronym RAVE: Respect, Appreciate and Value Everyone.

Here are the 13 key principles for creating an inclusive environment:

1. Make sure everyone matters and that everyone knows it
2. Know your team
3. Let your team get to know you
4. Greet people sincerely
5. Reach out to everyone on your team
6. Make yourself available
7. Listen to understand
8. Communicate clearly, directly and honestly
9. Stand up for the excluded
10. Forget about the chain of command
11. Don’t micromanage
12. Design your culture
13. Treat your people the way you would want your customers to be treated

In principle 13, Lee goes on to elaborate that customers want four basic things:
– Make me feel special
– Treat me as an individual
– Respect me
– Be knowledgeable

Employees, in turn also want four things:

– Make me feel special
– Treat me as an individual
– Respect me
– Make me knowledgeable

How many of us can name bosses who have routinely done these four things? I can think of leaders who ticked two of the boxes regularly and three occasionally. All four? Only on extremely rare occasions. I know that as a leader, I have failed miserably in accomplishing this. How often do I make my direct reports and line staff feel special? How often do I treat them as individuals and not just department members or someone filling a role? Do I ensure that my team members each feel respected by me? Do I make my people knowledgeable?

I am only on Chapter 3 of this book, but I feel challenged already, and inspired to begin today to become a better leader. I hope you do too!

 

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5 Reasons Why Moving to Yahoo Was the Right Choice for Marissa Mayer

On July 16, 2012, Yahoo announced that Marissa Mayer would take the helm as its new CEO. The news of Marissa’s appointment shook the tech world, raising both eyebrows and hopes.

After finishing high school in the Midwestern town of Wausau, Wisconsin, Marissa headed to Stanford University where she specialized in Artificial Intelligence, and obtained both undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. In 1999, Marissa joined Google as its first female software engineer and quickly began her climb through its ranks. By 2001, she had already been promoted to Product Manager, and was promoted again less than two years later to Director of Consumer Web Services. By late 2005, Marissa was appointed VP, Search Products and User Experience, giving her full responsibility for the search engine division. Seven years later and expecting her first child with husband, Zachary Bogue, Marissa has left Google to take on the challenge of bringing Yahoo back to life.

Here are five reasons why the decision she made was the right one:

1. Marissa Mayer Has Built A Stellar Reputation

Having recently celebrated her 13-year anniversary at Google, Marissa Mayer is a talented and accomplished engineer who knows the Internet inside out. With her keen eye for design, she has been credited with championing the search engine’s iconic minimalist layout and was instrumental in developing Google maps as well as Gmail. She is passionate about creating outstanding user experiences and is known for both her laser sharp focus and commitment to innovation. In 2008, at age 33, Marissa became the youngest woman to be listed among Fortune magazine’s America’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business, and has made the list every year since.

2. Marissa Mayer Had Been Overlooked

In recent years, the pace of Marissa’s advancement at Google has slowed. In late 2010, her responsibilities shifted from heading up search services to VP, Local, Maps and Location Services. While dubbed a promotion, and technically giving her more direct reports, the move signaled that she was being overlooked for more significant roles in the upper echelons of leadership. Since last year’s re-appointment of co-founder, Larry Page, as CEO, she has been further shunned, and was excluded from his newly formed “L-Team” of advisers. Mayer’s past role as the Company’s articulate and enthusiastic primary public face has also been visibly diminished. Rumors, although vehemently denied, had continued to surface intermittently suggesting the possibility of Mayer’s departure.

3. Marissa Mayer Was Hungry for A New Challenge

At age 37, Marissa may well have been longing for the opportunity to claim a bigger stage, giving her the increased sense of satisfaction and personal accomplishment winners crave. Mayer was recently appointed to as a director of Wal-Mart, snagging her first Board seat at a public company. Approached by Yahoo in June, Marissa faced a tough choice: stay with the sure thing or jump at the more interesting chance to become head honcho in a more challenging role. And what a challenge it will be. After being one of the first out of the starting block in 1994, Yahoo quickly leapt to Internet supremacy, before being pummeled by Google. In 2008, Yahoo turned down Microsoft’s purchase offer of $47.5 billion. Since then, it has been adrift, in wake of social upstarts Facebook and Twitter.

4. Marissa Mayer Believes She Has the Chops to Get the Job Done

Marissa isn’t just another engineer who has spent her entire career at a single company. She has been a groundbreaking talent, leading Google in some of its most significant wins, and quietly honing all the skills it takes to be a high-caliber CEO. She knows that her technical knowledge and innovative vision are key strengths required for successful leadership in the fast pace Internet arena.

  • She will need to attract and retain high quality engineering talent. Check. Marissa has finely honed organizational skills, as she is used to leading large teams of talented engineers. She has a proven commitment to strategic leadership and is good at mentoring talent, as evidenced by the programs she developed at Google to shape product managers into skilled executive leaders.
  • She will need to bring a renewed spirit of innovation and create great products. Check. Product is what Marissa is good at, and probably the main reason she was chosen to take the helm at Yahoo. Former boss, Larry Page dubbed her a “tireless champion of our users”. Marissa will no doubt make technology and user experience Yahoo’s new top priorities.

 

5. Marissa Mayer Had Nothing to Lose and Everything to Gain

Mayer was quoted as saying “I wanted to work at Google because I felt utterly unprepared”. Management pundits have observed that once female leaders have broken through the glass ceiling, they are often more likely to take up positions which have a higher built-in risk of failure than their male counterparts. Perhaps we are just thrill-seekers! As one of Google’s first employees, Marissa is already a very wealthy woman with a recently estimated net worth of $300 million. While Yahoo has been flailing for years, it is still a giant with over 12,000 employees and an estimated 700 million users. Even if Marissa, like her recent predecessors, fails to revive the company, it won’t be too much of a black mark on her career. On the other hand, if she succeeds, she will scaled a “glass cliff”.

 

Can Marissa Mayer Turn Around Yahoo?

To bring Yahoo back to its former glory, Marissa will have to get back to basics. She will need to craft a clear and compelling vision, and work to restore a sense of purpose and direction. Yahoo doesn’t know what wants to be anymore; it has lost its relevance, still serving as a portal to content, but creating very little user engagement. She will need to answer the all important question: “why does Yahoo exist?”, and inspire her beleaguered troops with the confidence to become a force of innovation once again. She will be in for a long and hard journey; it will take at least three to five years to see good efforts bear fruit. If she is successful in making Yahoo a champion again, she will have a clear shot at what she possibly craves most: to be Queen of Silicon Valley.

 

Please leave me your comments on whether you think Marissa Mayer will be successful.

 

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14 Leadership Principles from Steve Jobs

© Richard Davies

 

Like hundreds of thousands of Apple fans, I am fascinated by the incendiary brilliance of Steve Jobs and by the revolutionary products he created. I have no fewer than four Steve Jobs biographies in my library. I’ve read the unpleasant stories, and there are many: from Steve’s lack of basic hygiene in his youth, and his initial denial of paternity of his first daughter to the suggestion that he continually duped his long time partner, Steve Wozniak, the real brains behind Apple in its early days, but his luster remains. I am an admitted Steve Jobs junkie. Through his companies, Jobs transformed at least seven industries including animated movies, personal computing and music. I was delighted to find that Jobs has been featured in the April 2012 edition of the Harvard Business Review magazine. Six months after his death, his official biographer, Walter Isaacson, has skillfully distilled what is essentially an executive summary of Steve Jobs’ leadership style, in a brilliant 6,000 plus word article titled ‘The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs”.

Isaacson identifies fourteen leadership lessons, surmising that Jobs “belongs in the pantheon of America’s great innovators, along with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Walt Disney.” Fortune Magazine has also recently named Steve Jobs the greatest entrepreneur of our time. If Isaacson is right, then history is well on its way to remembering Steve Jobs less for his bad behavior and extreme emotionalism and more as an innovator who applied his personality, efforts and energy into transforming technology and business.

Here is a summary of the fourteen leadership principles:

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #1 – Focus

Steve Jobs was famous for his laser-like focus. This natural personality trait was further honed by his study of Zen philosophy; “deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do”. Shortly before his death, Larry Page, Google’s co-founder visited Jobs to ask for advice. Jobs told him to figure out the top five products Google should focus on and “get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down”. Page followed his advice, announcing to Google employees in January 2012 that they would “focus on just a few priorities, and make them “beautiful,” the way Jobs would have done.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #2 – Simplicity

Steve Jobs focused on annihilating complexity when creating products. He lived and breathed the Leonardo da Vinci tenet that appeared in Apple’s first marketing brochure: “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Ten years ago, the portable music player industry was ripe for a shake up, and Jobs’ quest for simplification led to the revolutionary iPod followed by the iPhone. When setting their sights on what to do next, today’s emerging business leaders need only find products that are more complicated than they need to be.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #3 – Elegance

Steve Jobs strove to deliver the elegant ideal. “People are busy”, he would say “they have other things to do than think about how to integrate their computers and devices.” And so, he took responsibility for the entire user experience, owning what he called “the whole widget”. Hardware, software and peripheral devices had to be seamlessly integrated. The leadership lesson here is to create products and service which reflect a passion for delivering delightful user experiences from start to finish.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #4 – Innovation

Steve Jobs knew that success was not just coming up with new ideas first, but being able to eclipse previous success through innovation. When he realized that original iMac left their users powerless to download, rip and swap music the way PC users could, he famously said “I felt like a dope. I thought we had missed it”. Instead of just playing catch up, he innovated. The result was an integrated system that transformed the music industry through the iPod, iTunes and the iTunes music store. And then, sensing the threat posed by mobile phone makers adding music players, and at the risk of hurting iPod sales, he created the iPhone. “If we don’t cannibalize ourselves, someone else will”.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #5 – Authenticity

During the early days of Apple, Steve Jobs motivated his team to create “insanely great” products. During his ten-year absence, with John Sculley at the helm, the focus shifted to profit maximization, and product design suffered. Steve Jobs theorized that is was one of the reasons companies decline. “My passion has been to build an enduring company where people… make great products… the products, not the profits, were the motivation. It’s a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything”. Today’s leaders and entrepreneurs will do well to stay true to the purpose of their businesses and remain authentic.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #6 – Vision

Henry Ford once famously said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!” Steve Jobs believed in being passionately committed to delivering products customers would love, but not in asking them what they want. He relied on his own vision. Jobs felt that finely honed intuitive powers could tap into desires not jut fully formed. Sometimes the only focus group leaders need is themselves: We made the iPod for ourselves,” he said, “and when you’re doing something for yourself, or your best friend or family, you’re not going to cheese out.”

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #7 – Certitude

Steve Jobs was known for demanding the impossible, his certitude the only guarantee of success. His infuriatingly effective ‘Reality Distortion Field’ led those he worked with to perform extraordinary feats. From having his partner produce a new game in four days, after saying it would take months, to having an engineer who explained it was impossible to shave 10 seconds off boot time deliver a 28-second time savings just a few weeks later. Jobs would stare at you blankly and say with unwavering conviction while demanding the impossible “Get your mind around it. You can do it”.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #8 – Discernment

Steve Jobs’ early mentor instilled in him the importance of discernment. Mike Markkula knew that people form opinions on companies and products based on presentation and packaging. This became one of Job’s guiding principles. He obsessed over the design of the boxes that held the iPod and iPhone, and insisted on adding a handle when the candy-colored new iMacs were created, adding “unnecessary” expense in order to make the product friendlier.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #9 – Tenacity

Steve Jobs was known to go back to the drawing board even in the advanced stages of product development. If it felt wrong, he had no qualms asking his designers, development teams and engineers to work nights and weekends to get things just right. He did it with Toy Story, even after Disney had insisted on darker, more mature re-writes; he stopped production to make it the family friendly success it eventually became. The iPhone was revamped even after the design was first approved. He never compromised on consistency of beauty and quality, using the lesson he learned doing carpentry with his father  “a great carpenter isn’t going to use lousy wood for the back of a cabinet, even though nobody’s going to see it.”

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #10 – Selectivity

Steve Jobs insisted on having only the best talent on his teams.  Jobs refused to indulge in what he referred to as a “Bozo explosion”: the creation of passively polite environments where mediocrity is allowed to flourish. Although his selectivity often manifested as stormy petulance, he reasoned “when you have really good people, you don’t have to baby them. By expecting them to do great things, you can get them to do great things”. And did he ever.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #11 – Collaboration

Despite working in a high-tech field, Steve Jobs relied heavily on the synergy that often takes place in face-to-face collaboration. He was known to take long walks during intense negotiations. The Apple headquarters was designed to encourage chance meetings and maximize person-to-person encounters. He wanted people to engage, interact and brainstorm informally because he believed that sparked a kind of magic. His advice to leaders on the subject of collaboration very well might have been: “forget the PowerPoint presentations and get people interacting”.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #12 – Detail

In the midst of all his far-reaching plans, Steve Jobs also knew that God is in the details. Even while creating grand concepts for the future of his company, he applied his passion to the small things as well; he was known to fret over the shape and color of screws in the iMac. To leaders, the realization of overarching business strategies might very well depend on never losing sight of the importance of even the tiniest details.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #13 – Imagination

Steve Jobs was fascinated with concept of standing at the intersection of humanities and sciences. Like Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein before him, he used imagination to bridge the gap between arts and technology. Leaders who can bring right-brain imagination to left-brained fields of science, and engineering will be critical to the business success in the 21st century.

Steve Jobs Leadership Lesson #14 – Non-Conformity

Having grown up in the San Francisco Bay area in the 1960’s, Steve Jobs was a product of both the hippie anti-war counterculture and the geek-filled, high-tech world of Silicon Valley. His behavior, passions and business reflected the contradictions and confluence of these divergent elements. The pithy maxim, ‘Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish”, reflects the way he lived his life, and the way he positioned Apple, starting it out in his parents’ garage to become the world’s most valuable company at the time of his death. Jobs helped compose the text for Apple’s “Think Different” ad campaign. The words speak for themselves: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels… We see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

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Today I’m Inspired by: Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg in Vogue

Sheryl Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer at one of the most ubiquitous companies on the planet. Taking home over US$30 million in 2011, Sheryl is the highest paid person at Facebook. Second in command to founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg developed the plan that took the social networking giant from 70 million users and almost no revenue to a user base of 850 million users and annual revenues of $3.7 billion in less than four years.

There aren’t that many role models for women in business. The self-made legends like Oprah and Martha Stewart stand out precisely because there are so few to name. Sheryl Sandberg first caught my interest when I came across an article on her, aptly titled ‘A Woman’s Place’, in The New Yorker last summer. I remember being tickled by her encounters with the not-so-subtle nuances of male domination in Silicon Valley and specifically at Google, where Sandberg once held a Vice President position, before joining Facebook. I could relate.

Poised to be an extremely wealthy woman with an expected windfall of US$1.6 billion when the Facebook IPO goes through, Sheryl Sandberg has not been an overnight success. She was at the top of her class all through high school, before heading to Harvard for an undergraduate degree in Economics. While there, she won the respect of economics professor Lawrence Summers. Summers would become her mentor, employing her as his research assistant when he joined the World Bank. She worked on health projects in India dealing with leprosy, AIDS, and blindness, before going on to attain an MBA from the prestigious Harvard Business School. She then joined Summers once again as his chief of staff, when he became the Deputy Treasury Secretary in the Clinton Administration.

Sheryl Sandberg now occupies the #5 spot on the Forbes World’s Most Powerful Women’s list, while balancing life as a wife and mother of two young children. It is clear that she is not only exceptionally intelligent and highly educated, but has worked hard and attracted at least one powerful mentor. However, these are not the only factors she credits for her success. In a recent TED talk, Sheryl addresses the reasons for the dearth of women in leadership positions saying, “women systematically underestimate their own abilities”. She offers three key pieces of advice for women striving to make it to the top of their professions:

1. Sit at the table – constantly reach for the opportunities out there.
2. Make sure your partner is a real partner – choose a mate who will be in there with you 50/50.
3. Don’t leave before you leave – don’t be so busy planning for when you have a family that you take your foot off the gas pedal long before you actually start.

When accomplished people talk about success, it’s a good idea to listen. I hope you will take the time to watch Sheryl Sandberg’s 15-minute talk which will inspire both men and women.

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Nice Smart People Succeed

In January 2012 at the first weekly team meeting, I sat with my management team to outline plans for the new year ahead. Although this date did not coincide with our fiscal year end, the start of the calendar year always naturally brings with it an opportunity for resolutions and for renewal. I asked them to be brutally honest about the ways in which they felt I could improve my leadership skills. The ten-member management team jumped at the opportunity to offer candid, 360-degree feedback. I asked probing questions, took copious notes, and made a valiant effort to keep my pride under complete submission. Most of the team leaders left that meeting feeling refreshed, I left bloodied, bruised and limping.

Receiving an unfiltered critique from those who worked with me daily got me thinking about the difference between being liked and being respected as a leader, and the age old question of which one is more important. In my quest for answers, I came across and read the book,Love Is the Killer Appby Tim Sanders. While many bosses and managers choose to wield power based on fear, after reading that book, I came to conclude that leaders should actively strive to be both liked and respected.

Published in 2002, this book could have been subtitled “How to Succeed in Business by Being Smarter and Nicer”. Tim Sanders writes that in the new economy people will be valued for their knowledge and their network and not seniority or pedigree. He argues that the only way to advance in today’s experience economy is by being a “love cat”, and intelligently and sensibly sharing your intangibles.

The intangibles Tim Sanders asks that we share are our knowledge, our network and our compassion:

Share Your Knowledge.

First, we have to put in the work necessary to accumulate enough knowledge to share, and add value to others. Books and audiobooks are the best way to get this knowledge. The author encourages using most of our free time for reading – making a commitment to review as many as one or two books per week. Tim advises that we take notes describing the book’s Big Thought, supporting ideas, and on its overall value.  We can then share the knowledge by prescribing books to our contacts the way a doctor would prescribe medications to patients.

Share Your Network.

Tim advises that we become collectors of people – establishing positive and memorable interactions with as many contacts as possible, to be able to later match them with other contacts. The more positive dealings you have had with people, the more likely you are to be a winner in business. You will have the largest networks, the most powerful connections, and the ability to call in their reserves at to help provide solutions for other connections when they really need it.

Share Your Compassion.

Let people know that you care. By expressing your compassion, you create an experience that people remember. There is a tremendous opportunity for your compassion to make a difference in how people view you, and how they view themselves, because we continue to develop emotionally and spiritually throughout our entire lives. Compassion combined with knowledge and network is the way we win hearts and influence business today.

The advantages of striving to become both liked and respected:

1. You build an outstanding brand as a person.

When you take the time to build a brand, people will trust you, like you and pursue you. Be distinct or become extinct.

2. You create an experience.

The more you read, the more you know and the more fun, interesting and valuable knowledge you have to pass along. Smart companies today are using their services as props and their services as a stage to deliver a compelling experiences.

3. You have access to people’s attention.

Biz-Love helps you give others good return on attention (ROA). It means being able to supply creativity, and help give them a foundation for their business practice.

4. You harness the power of positive presumption.

People tend to presume that a proposal is a bad idea until proven otherwise. Being a love cat arms you with the trust and respect of others, so that they know we have their interests at heart.

5. You receive exceptional feedback.

Love cats have a huge advantage because relationships don’t end when the business transactions end. Biz love partners know you are genuinely interested in their success.

6. You gain personal satisfaction.

People no longer feel secure based on their length of time with a company, and find themselves not living up to their own expectations. Love cats enjoy higher levels of security because there is always genuine reciprocity available by building intangibles.

End note: If you are a developing leader who wants to get a jump-start on building a valuable knowledge base and a wide network of contacts, if you want to learn how share compassion in business, then I urge you to read “Love Is the Killer App“.

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The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Ants do it. Why can’t we?

In theory, we all know the value of teamwork. In childhood, grandma admonished that “many hands make light work”. Henry Ford provided sage advice, saying “if everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself”. We have all seen the glossy motivational posters. So why is it so difficult to build strong and effective teams?

Two years ago, when I became a General Manager for the first time, one of the lessons I knew I had to learn fast was how to get the most out of my new team of managers and supervisors. Having spent almost my entire career in audit, accounting and finance positions, leading a multi-disciplinary team was new to me.

I recently completed the audio version of my second book by Patrick Lencioni. “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” struck a chord with me.  In a cleverly woven leadership fable, Lencioni provides insight into the reasons why so many teams fail. The author shows how ineffective teams create apathy and ambiguity that will eventually cripple an organization.

Here are the natural, but dangerous pitfalls encountered by a team:

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

1. Absence of Trust

Where there is an absence of trust in a team, members don’t get to know each other well. They are afraid to be vulnerable or admit their weaknesses or mistakes. Because the team members are constantly in defense mode, no one asks for help.

2. Fear of Conflict

Absence of trust sets the tone for a team’s inability to engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas. Effective teams disagree with each other. Instead of running their thoughts through a political filter before being spoken, they say “I disagree with you, here are the reasons why”. Veiled discussions, guarded comments, sarcasm and silence do not achieve the results that active disagreement and productive debate can yield. When team members don’t battle it out passionately, the decisions they reach will inevitably not accurately reflect the shared goals and values of the organization.

3. Lack of Commitment

Wherever there is a lack of healthy conflict then the third dysfunction is almost assured. Where there has been no “weigh-in” on matters, there is likely to be little true “buy-in” for decisions made. Team members may feign agreement during meetings, but haven’t truly given their commitment to decisions and plans of action.

4. Avoidance of Accountability

A lack of commitment to clearly defined plan of action leads to team members being hesitant to hold their peers accountable. No one gets called out for actions and behaviors that are counter-productive to the good of the team. When no one gets called out, everyone saves face, and the team loses.

5. Inattention to Results

Avoidance of accountability has only one natural conclusion. When team members  put their own  – such as career advancement, or the needs of their individual departments ahead of the collective goals of the team, then results suffer.

 

In the last two years, my leadership style has developed into one that is somewhat unconventional. I strive to create an environment that encourages vulnerability. Everyone on the team knows they have a say. I encourage debate and even passionate emotional debate. Conflict is natural and healthy. Without it, there will be no growth because the status quo is never really challenged. Arguing over concepts and ideas is not to be confused with personal mean-spirited attacks and destructive politics. In a good team, everyone knows the difference. It takes discipline and commitment to acquire that level of knowledge, but the results are truly worth it.

End note: If you are a leader who relies on a dogmatic management style, or if you are part of a team that constantly walks on eggshells trying not to offend each other, then I would like to challenge you to read Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. Learning to lead in a way that gets the most from your team will yield more positive results than you can imagine.

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Don’t Flip

Featured above is a newspaper clipping from syndicated cartoon strip ‘Rose Is Rose’  by Pat Brady, circa 2000. Rose, a usually mild-mannered and well read housewife, is helping her son Pasquale with his homework.  The strip has been cleverly annotated in red ink by my very dear friend, Greg. He fast-forwarded to my future life as wife and mother, and labeled Rose – Joya.

Greg and I worked together in a Big-4 accounting firm at the time. I was a year or two ahead of him as a  Senior Accountant and often supervised him on client engagements. Part of my role was to review the work of the juniors and to make sure the audit files were up to standard. One day, he left this gem pinned to my cubicle wall. Rose’s acrobatic somersault reaction to Pascale’s homework errors, was to Greg (and possibly the rest of my junior team) a perfect representation of my over-reaction to their shortcomings. Apparently, I was a little “touchy about grammatical errors” back then.

People Won’t Care How Much You Know, Until They Know How Much You Care

I’ve kept this clipping all these years, not only a memento of funny and endearing experience. It was Greg’s way of telling me to “lighten up”, and it has served as a reminder to me over the years that we never get the best out of others by flipping out over their mistakes.

That day, eleven years ago, I had one of many opportunities to learn one of the most important lessons in leadership and in living. Maya Angelou summed it up well: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”