Lead Like Apple: Prioritize Individual Accountability

To have a fully accountable team, you must break “getting in line” behavior with individual ownership of success. – Brendan Witcher

I’m not sure when or why this happened, but at some point, holding people fully accountable for their work became very non-politically correct. The idea of “getting on the bus” and building a culture of consensus/conformity has become the norm. I’ve been asked to write on this before, but really needed somewhere to start.

Today, while waiting in my office for a meeting to start, I picked up an old Fortune magazine and proceeded to flip through the pages. In it, I came across an article that described how Steve Jobs and Apple applied the concept of a “directly responsible individual,” referred to as the DRI, within the organization. What does that mean?

With every project, there is one specific person, the DRI, who is totally responsible for its success or failure.

Since my meeting was a 2014 budget review for open entry-level positions and internships, my thoughts segued from the article to the pile of resumes on my desk belonging to recent college grads.

It’s no secret that there is an excessive amount of emphasis team building in today’s business schools. My own experience in an MBA program was no different; most of my classes focused on team projects, where everyone received the same grade regardless of effort. I felt at that time, and still believe, that this was the opposite lesson needed for working in a real business environment, where individual efforts tend to define the decisions and outcomes of tasks, jobs or projects. Even in large companies, with 500+ employees, it’s rare that a “team” in some way gets fully rewarded or held accountable for success or failure respectively. In smaller companies, it’s almost never the case.

So, while academia seems to believe everything should be done via teamwork and collaboration (which often leads to compromise in projects), and that the tough decisions should be made via team compromises, I agree with Apple’s approach. Here are the rules I created years ago and use to manage my staff with at every company that’s employed me:

  • Make individuals – not teams – accountable
  • When people succeed, give them full credit and reward them…publicly
  • When people fail, determine what caused the failure and decide on the appropriate action(s): refrain, explain, re-train, or do not retain

If you are trying to implement a significant change, or even build a culture of innovation as part of a strategy, substituting individual ownership with consensus building teams can be disastrous. A culture of consensus (or conformity in a smaller organization) leads to legions of sycophants, merely trying to please the largest paycheck in the room. You also risk suppressing distinct and new opportunities, while crushing any chance of a significant”needle-moving” idea gaining traction.

Remember, if you try to make a unique idea acceptable to everyone, you end up with an average idea. I had a boss years ago who used to often say “Consider this outcome to be the determining factor between you having a job tomorrow or you (and your family) living under a bridge, begging for change.” Harsh, but her point was spot on. If you consider every decision you make to be that critical, the single determining element between success and failure in your career, you’re going to approach your work with a sharper eye, a more focused mind, and an uncompromising determination to make sure that you – not anyone else – deliver successful results.

So, what are the takeaways?

  1. With every significant project, use the DRI concept; name someone who lays down at night worrying that he/she is going to be a failure if this thing doesn’t become a success.
  2. Make it clear to the everyone, at every level, how the job/project is going to be run and, most importantly, who is the DRI. This needs to be said at the top and heard, first hand, by everyone who matters.
  3. Also, make sure it’s clear to everyone that the DRI has full authority and ownership over their job and delivering results, because he/she will be “the throat to choke.”

All that said, there are times when team consensus work is a better choice; in fact, there are situations where it is absolutely necessary. For example, teams must be used when you need to improve a process. Team members should represent the various skills needed to handle certain aspects of a process. Process improvement tools like Japanese Total Quality and Six Sigma brought the team concept to the American workplace; but, unfortunately, many folks still attempt to apply the team notion through every part of their business.

So recognize when to use DRI’s vs. teams, apply DRI use religiously to key areas of the business, follow through on accountability, and who knows…maybe you’ll be running the most valuable company in the world someday too.

Dedicated to Steve…your leadership and inspirational thinking is missed.

Why You Need a Social Media Specialist

A Social Media Specialist can help bring harmony to your program!

Down below, I’ve given five reasons why it’s important to hire a specialist to handle Social Media programs. I wrote this in response to a short article Richard Branson recently published on Linked-In trying to answer the question “Why aren’t more business leaders online (in social media)?” His article states:

“Why are only 16% of CEOs currently participating in social media? IBM’s 2012 Global CEO Study found that most CEOs are clearly not taking social media seriously. Only one of more than 1,700 respondents had their own blog! Some are on LinkedIn, fewer on Twitter and even less on Facebook, Google+ and elsewhere on the web.”

While he makes a guess and points out that he uses social media, the article really never answers the question and can be summed up as “they all have their heads in the sand, Social Media is the future, and I’m smart enough to know it.”

I’m going to take a different approach than Sir Richard and give the benefit of the doubt to those CEOs that he was quick to rake across the coals. I believe many aren’t engaging Social Media because they fall into one of two categories:

  1. They simply don’t understand social media (the entire network).
  2. They do understand social media, and therefore realize it’s going to take a lot of time, resources and attention to integrate it into their business.

For those that fall into the first category, we need to ignore them. It is the responsibility of all CEOs to understand any elements that have significant impactful on their consumer base’s lives. If a CEO isn’t aware of the degree to which Social Media has become a part of our day-to-day lives, then we can’t hold their hand and lead them to the promise land. There are always some CEOs who just won’t get it when it comes to evolving consumer markets (Blockbuster, Kodak, Yahoo, Nokia, etc.). In those cases, time will make them as irrelevant as they believe Social Media to be.

For the second category, I’m 180 degrees the other way. I’m sympathetic because I’ve been there. I know it’s a huge commitment and, frankly, it’s hard to know where to even start. The worst part is that, unlike almost any other Marketing initiatives out there today, there are no rules or real roadmaps to follow. Why? Because it’s customer driven, and customers are nothing if not unpredictable. In addition, when you really start to understand it, you suddenly realize that it’s more than just another marketing outlet (like billboards). It takes partnerships and expertise throughout your organization (marketing, merchandising, creative services, customer service, CRM, database management, analytics, etc.) to make it effective and to pull data from it as part of an integrated enterprise view of the customer.

So you decide it’s time to enter the fray. What’s the first step? Well before you jump, I might suggest going tandem and tying yourself – tightly and securely – to a Social Media Specialist. The common mistake I’ve seen companies make is offering a current employee (usually under the age of 30) the “opportunity” to build a Social Media plan who already has another job; this would be classified under “additional responsibilities.” The other mistake I’ve seen quite often is giving the job to someone (usually over the age of 30) who is a Manager/Director with lots of tenure but not a lot to do (and Social Media experience consisting of an occasional “Like” on their spouse’s Facebook comments).

Here are the top of reasons that you need someone in your organization, a Social Media Manager/Specialist, who’s experienced with this marketing channel, has the chops to execute it, and does it full time…40 hours+ per week.

1. It’s complicated…really!

Social Media to most people are The Big 3: Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In. But the folks who think that don’t understand the definition (or the reach) of Social Media, which includes any online interactive community. I think this graphic says more than I could with words:

Thanks Buddy Media!

2. Would you go International without a Pro?

This was the toughest lesson for me to learn. Each Social Media outlet is unique; what you do, say or offer on one is not what you would do on another. In other words, no cutting and pasting of messages. What you put out there as a Tweet might be well received, but the folks on Facebook expect something with a little more meat and what you put on either of those wouldn’t probably work on Yelp!, Foursquare, Tumblr or Pinterest. In this way, it’s a lot like doing business overseas; each place has its own way of doing business. It is not their responsibility to accommodate you, it’s your job (if you want to keep it) to figure out how to work with them.

3. You need to be good – really good – at Creative Writing.

Even if you put aside the “what” of your marketing message, the message itself can be one of the more challenging issues. There are much different styles of writing required for social media community. For example, responding to a negative comment about your company would require unique writing (and content) for a community forum vs. a personal blog post vs. a Facebook post vs. a Tweet. If your company has a sudden PR issue, negative comments could hit all of these web channels at the same time. You need someone who knows how to “do it now” in an effective manner, without having to spend time thinking about the nuances of writing for a particular community.

4. You can’t manage what you can’t measure (even in Social Media)!

Every marketing channel has its own ways of measuring business. For example, direct marketers often use circ/response rates, while digital marketers often use traffic/conversion rates. Social Media has its own ways of being measured and analytics, very often using the data provided by the Social Media sites themselves. I often quote Einstein’s saying “Information is not Knowledge” and it takes someone who is embedded in the Social Media world to take the data these sites provide and turn it into useful knowledge. I’ve seen too many companies miss what they were accomplishing with their efforts (and a number of them who also missed that there were accomplishing nothing) simply because they put out a lot of social marketing but never tried to measure the returns.

5. It’s no longer a competitive advantage…it’s how your competitors do business.

Many, many years ago, someone at Harvard put out a white paper stating something similar about IT departments. The fact is your customer/clients/consumers are going to expect you to respond to social media comments. Heck, I know people – although not people I do business with – that actually monitor social media for any mention of their competitors just so THEY can respond. “Hey Joe, had a bad experience at X? We would never let that happen at Y. Give us a call next time!” Isn’t this your worst nightmare? If I have to say more than this scenario to convince you that you need to be out there and in a serious manner, then maybe you fall into Category 1 that I mentioned above.

Social Media marketing isn’t rocket science, but it is a science nonetheless. A specialist can help guide you through a plan, manage a program, and quickly bring you up to speed in a fast-paced marketing channel that already has some fairly strong (and dangerous) currents rushing through it. So is it worth it? How critical is this role to your organization today? Tomorrow? If you knew your competitors were hiring a Social Media “Rockstar”, would you be worried?

Agree/Disagree? Comments, compliments and contrarian views are always welcome.

Is Your Company a Perfect “10”?

“10” is within every company’s reach!

The whole cannot be greater than the sum of its parts.

Some of us may remember this statement from elementary math, but its principle seems forgotten when it comes to organizational structure. Recently, I was dining with three C-Level executives at a well-known and expensive restaurant. The purpose of this meeting was exploratory in nature. The BOD’s P/L goals for the company had been repeatedly missed over the past 3 years and wanted something done about it. The goals had been reasonable, the marketplace had been strong and, unfortunately, the competition was doing well.

As we discussed the situation, they painted a picture of a company with barely any turnover, but also acknowledged that there was very little motivation for employees to excel. By the time dessert came, it was clear what their problem was and why business had been suffering.

At this point I reminded my clients that our waiter had missed a few basic service standards that evening. One of our meals was wrong (and not corrected), we were never asked how the food was and we sat with empty drink glasses for most of the evening. Our server was also generally rude and impatient towards us and another couple sitting nearby. I asked the three individuals sitting with me if they would give him a 10 for this service. They all agreed that a 4 was about as high as he would rate. I then asked if they felt the food was a 10. We all agreed it deserved a 10. I asked them to rate the oveall restaurant itself; decor, music, menu selection. For these aspects in total, again, they gave a 10.

I then asked, “What final score would you give this restaurant?” They all agreed that it would recieve about an 8.

“That,” I said, “is exactly where your problem lies. You want to operate as a “10” but you have too many “3s” and “4s” in your teams.”

This is not an uncommon problem. In fact, because of weak human assets, I have watched entire companies go into the red and disappear despite having solid products and great market penetration. Yet, turnover is thought of as a bad word in corporate circles. It is often interpreted to mean a company can’t retain employees and that it likely spends too much on hiring and training initiatives. This view of turnover inherently dibilitates a company’s ability to grow. When it is purposeful and strategic, turnover can be extremely beneficial. When you let go of people who are not pulling their weight, it sends a message to the rest of your staff that:

  1. Those who give 110% to the company deserve to work with people who will give as much.
  2. The company is striving for perfection.
  3. The company will reward those who take ownership of their jobs, and remove those who do not.

Here is an excellent exercise to put things into perspective. Make a list of all your employees or, if you are a large organization, list employees in just key positions. Score each one of them based on their ability to do three things:

  • Consistently meet your expectations for tasks you expect them to own (1-4 Points)
  • Regularly exceed your expectations in terms of attitude, professionalism, work ethics and commitment to excellence (1-3 Points)
  • Effectively comprehend, communicate and enforce your expectations to those who do not report directly to you (1-3 Points)

When I work with upper-managers, I don’t reveal the theme of this exercise. That being said, I’ve often seen managers beam with pride in their organizations built with average scores of 7s-8s. After we complete this part of the session, many will make comments such as “This looks pretty good” or “My teams are strong overall in these areas.”

First, let me point out that the scoring is usually on the high side. I’ve learned that most managers will give their teams/employees at least a 3 on the first point (just above average) and 2’s on the second and third point (average). In my opinion, these scores lean towards the higher end of the scale because C-Level execs know, to a certain degree, that their subordinates are a reflection of themselves as managers and leaders. If nothing else, they are a reflection on the executive’s ability to hire and motivate good talent. Scoring their subordinates below average is something few execs are willing to do in front of colleagues or their direct reports (or a “tell-it-like-I-see-it” consultant).

It should be clear how absurd it is to rate your most important company assets (your people) as average and call this result “pretty good.” Without excellence in this crucial aspect of your business, you can never obtain excellence overall. Again, the whole cannot be greater than the sum of it’s parts.

What I am saying is this: You must hire, train and retain all level 10 employees if you want a level 10 company. This is a simple concept. If you have all 7s and 8s working for you and running your business, your company will always fall short of its market potential.

How do you fill your ranks with level 10 employees? It starts with the interview process. Most organizations in this day and age have figured out that you better vet your applicants for key employment positions. I’ve even known one person who had to go through a 2-day interview marathon where they met with 16 individuals and 4 groups (she didn’t get the job, but the person who did get the position had to weather another day and 4 individual interviews for a total of 20). But it’s not the number of interviews, or the number of days, or the length of the interviews that matter. It’s what is asked, what is answered and, most importantly, what is not answered. Be sure you have a firm grasp of this person’s ability to:

  1. Do the job better than the person they are replacing.
  2. Bring some kind of strength/experience to the company/department that does not already exist.
  3. Hold themselves accountable for all of the responsibilities you will be asking them to manage.

Next, incentivize and reward employee behaviors that go beyond normal day-to-day responsibilities. Often, all it takes is a simple personal acknowledgement from someone way up the chain to motivate a person to continue outstanding performance for months on end. Think back to when you were starting your career and what it would have meant to you to have someone way up the chain acknowledge work you made great. It costs nothing, so give praise often and whenever it is deserved.

On the reverse side, do not tolerate laziness, irresponsibility or unprofessional behavior from any of your staff, but especially from those in upper-management. Leadership, or lack thereof, always trickles downward. Once bad behaviors become commonplace deep in the organization, they can be difficult, costly and even impossible to remove.

Finally, remind those that work directly for you that the people who work below them are the “parts” of their “whole.” They are responsible for hiring and developing talent below them that raises the score of their areas to “10s.” Again, to reach a 10, one cannot have a score below a 10 as part of the equation.

It’s really just a matter of simple math.

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