Archive for May, 2008

Review – The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t

Our apologies to any readers out there with tender ears, but we’ll let the author speak for himself in this excerpt from his article in the Harvard Business Review:

There’s a simple practice that can make an organization better, but while many managers talk about it, few write it down. They enforce “no asshole” rules. I apologize for the crudeness of the term – you might prefer to call them tyrants, bullies, boors, cruel bastards, or destructive narcissists, and so do I, at times. Some behavioral scientists refer to them in terms of psychological abuse, which they define as “the sustained display of hostile verbal and nonverbal behaviors, excluding physical contact.” But all that cold precision masks the fear and loathing these jerks leave in their wake. Somehow, when I see a mean-spirited person damaging others, no other term seems quite right.

- Robert I. Sutton
More Trouble Than They’re Worth
Breakthrough Articles for 2004 – HBR reprint R0402A

At some point in time, we all have worked with a person who is a mean-spirited jerk – who throws their weight or position around, and who uses fear to motivate, to manipulate, or to get his or her way. In short, we’ve all had the displeasure of working with an ‘asshole’.

noassholecoveramazonThe No Asshole Rule, Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving in One That Isn’t, by Robert Sutton, is a fast and fun read (or listen) about keeping assholes out of your workplace, recognizing our own individual tendencies toward asshole-ism and about how some people leverage their assholed-ness for power and results (yes, some people actually do get what they want by being real jerks).

Sutton has two simple criteria for determining if someone is an asshole. First, if the person on the receiving end “feels depressed, humiliated or de-energized or belittled” and secondly if the “alleged asshole aims the venom at people who are less powerful rather than people who are more powerful.”

In Sutton’s language there are also temporary assholes. These are people who are simply having a bed day, in contrast to certified assholes – people who are persistently nasty and destructive jerks. Sutton also has the obligatory asshole self-test in his book so that you can understand if you, yourself, are of the certified or temporary variety.

The book is sprinkled with examples of how awful people can be, and “revenge” stories that show the lengths ‘victims’ will go to in response. It also highlights success stories, such as Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines, and successful counter-examples, such as Steve Jobs of Apple, Inc. (See “Evil Genius” in Wired magazine for more…)

I think the most important question to discuss, particularly if you are and executive or business owner, is to what degree you are actually willing to condone assholes in your work place.

Sutton refers to a number of studies that describe the damage done to organizations by jerks. They undermine the productivity of a team or organization, cause good people to leave the workplace and in some instances, can put others at physical risk when allowed to continue.

Gary and I are frequently called in to help deal with employees who hold their organizations hostage through their nasty attitude and behavior. At times, these people are in what they perceive to be ‘key’ positions, by their productivity or specialized knowledge. These people are expert at pushing to the very limit of tolerance, using anything up to and including temper tantrums to get their way. What’s an organization to do??

Especially in this climate of reduced resources and economic challenges, business leaders must make the most of every employee to leverage the organization toward success. If you, like Sutton or Kelly, are interested in creating a great place to work where good talent is hired, invested in and grown for its incredible competitive advantage, then the ‘no asshole’ rule is a good one to adopt and keep at zero-tolerance.

© 2008 Ann Ralston and the respective copyright holders.

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WSJ bestseller – The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich

4hourworkweekcover2Love it or hate it, this book is bound to offer new views on cherished assumptions.

And boy, does author, Tim Ferriss have the power to polarize opinion. This controversial Princeton University guest lecturer has written what I consider to be an innovative antidote to a problem for our clients and their colleagues – trapping themselves into working for the sake of work. Right from the start, I would recommend you separate your opinion about Tim and his choices, style and values from the ideas and tools presented.

But read it you should. There is a good chance that your top performers, road warriors, independent thinkers and millennials (those born roughly from 1981-2000) have at least heard of Lifestyle Design. His premise is simple: working long hours for many years, deferring the activities of retirement until we are too old to participate in them (and possibly, can’t even afford them) is a broken model. As an alternative, he presents the concept and practice of Lifestyle Design – separating earning power from activities, incorporating mini-retirements throughout life, and re-focusing new-found free time on learning and service as a worthy pursuit.

I think this last point is important to highlight. Were I Tim, trying to reach the likes of Ann and me, I would have mentioned sooner that it’s not all about globe-trotting sybaritic pleasures. Many, if not most of the experienced Lifestyle Designers interviewed in the research discovered that they faced the challenge previously connected to retirees: When your income is no longer dependent upon your activity, you’ve given yourself a long holiday (or three) and you don’t care if you ever photograph another wild gazelle, then what do you do? Fortunately, there is a chapter on filling the void and inventing your next purpose.

For some entrepreneurs, especially, this book will shine a light on the common pattern of leaders who weave themselves indispensably into their business model – becoming a growth bottleneck, a key-person risk and a prisoner all at once. Similar to Gerber’s “The e-Myth, Revisited“, Ferriss offers leaders ways to disentangle from their processes – to move from self-employment to owning a business system.

Available in book and other formats, I recommend The 4-hour Workweek to anyone who must manage or collaborate with Lifestyle Designers, or aspires to become one. See you at the beach!

©2008 Gary Ralston all rights reserved.

Download a brief audio presentation by Tim Ferriss here.

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WSJ.com: Does Being Ethical Pay?

Companies spend huge amounts of money to be ‘socially responsible.’ Do consumers reward them for it? And how much?

Illustration: Rob Shepperson, wsj.comWe recommend this article, written by Remi Trudel and June Cotte of University of Western Ontario’s Ivey School of Business, and published in both the Wall Street Journal, and the MITSloan Management Review, and its related podcast.

In the study, the researchers set out to determine how much consumers were willing to pay for a commodity (in this case, coffee and t-shirts), when presented with the ethical track record of the company behind the product. They found that while consumers will pay a premium to a company with at least some socially responsible practices (25% organic cotton, for instance), they wouldn’t pay much more for a company using 100% organic cotton. On the flip side, researchers discovered that consumers punished clearly un-ethical companies (i.e. lacking ethnic diversity, hurting the environment, sweatshop labor), only buying their products at a steep discount.

The findings set up an interesting tension between the economics of the business (invest only enough in ethical practice to change perception and benefit from higher margins), and the values and principles of the company (operate in a socially-responsible manner in every way we can, within our business model). Nonetheless, the conclusion is that the consumer will reward socially responsible behavior and punish unethical behavior through their buying choices.

How do your customers rate your company?

- illustration: Rob Shepperson, wsj.com

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Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, by Mark Lynas

SixDegreesCover150wAs a global community, we have until 2015 to cap carbon dioxide emissions at 400 ppm, and 2 degrees Celsius average warming, or reach a tipping point leading to an unstoppable, runaway overheating of the planet.

That’s pretty much the bottom line from this extremely well-researched and well-written book by journalist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer, Mark Lynas. In Six Degrees, Lynas paints six scenarios of how the planet will be different – one for each degree Celsius of average global temperature increase. I’ve read the summaries for policymakers published by the Nobel Award-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and as clear as they are, they simply don’t give you the same gut-level grasp for just how much our current way of business – and of life – will be overturned.

National Geographic thought so, too, and used Mark’s work as the basis for their television special: Six Degrees Could Change the World. I suggest that you click on the Video tab, and work all the way through the various video clips. Consider, for instance, this chilling SFX shot of a New York subway car abandoned in a tunnel flooded by rising sea levels. Many of us reading this blog will easily live long enough to experience this possible future. And many of us will not want to look. Heck, I had trouble completing my research for this article because I felt overwhelmed by the scale and immediacy of the problem. But look, we must.

SubwayFlood250wThe situation is on top of us, and not nearly enough people appear to be paying attention.

In strategy, structure and systems, we are always on the lookout for feedback loops. Well, our planet has some enormous temperature-triggered positive feedback loops – tipping points or points of no return – just waiting for some species to trip them.

The first threshold, for carbon-cycle feedback, is around 3 degree Celsius of warming – 450 ppm of Carbon Dioxide (CO2). Large amounts of Carbon Dioxide are predicted to be released from “reservoirs”, among them the burning forests of the Amazon and Malaysia, and the thawing Arctic icecaps and tundra.

The second threshold, for Siberian methane feedback, is around 4 degrees Celsius of warming – 550 ppm of Carbon Dioxide (CO2). Large amounts of methane (23 times as potent as the same amount of Carbon Dioxide) are predicted to be released from “reservoirs”, such as those in Siberia, and methane hydrate in deep sea deposits.

So where are we now? In 2007, Carbon Dioxide (CO2) was at 382 ppm (parts per million), and we currently increase about 2 ppm per year.

Lynas concludes, based upon his review of the available research, that in order to have even a 75 percent certainty of keeping temperatures below the magic 2-degree threshold, we have seven years to reverse the buildup of greenhouse gases globally and hit a safety target of around 400 ppm of Carbon Dioxide (CO2). Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions must peak by or before 2015, and decline by 85 percent by 2050. If we let it get to 3 degrees (as early as 2050), feedback cycles kick in, and we risk a one-way ticket to 6 degrees of global warming and mass extinction on a scale not seen since the End-Permian age.

The numbers ought to chill us all to the bone, and then fire us into immediate re-thinking of all parts of our business and lifestyle, and the prospects for our descendants.

As Lynas put it:

“We humans, one species of animal among millions, have now become de facto guardians of the planet’s climate stability – a service that used to be provided free (given a few ups and downs) by nature. Without realizing it, we have appointed ourselves janitors, our sweaty ape hands resting heavily on the climatic thermostat. A more awesome responsibility can scarcely be imagined.”

Immediate Business Implications:

Business Carbon Emissions WILL be regulated: We all know that business has had a free ride, not having to account for the global cost of releasing Greenhouse Gases. In the following decades, financial statements and regulatory reports will also account for credits and debits of these gases. If your supply chain is carbon intensive, your costs will climb.

TCClogo_smallConsumers and regulators are demanding that business be accountable for the Total Lifecycle of products and services: Large business is already having to do this. Smaller businesses should be scrambling to figure out how to manage the cost of policing their entire supply chains, and extend their financial models to include liability for disposal. Learn more at sites such as The Climate Conservancy, a non-profit created by scientists from Stanford University.

There will be a social backlash against conspicuous consumption and the disposable economy, fueled by the climate crisis: As with so many of us, our parents grew up during the depression, when recycling went by another name – survival. In my case, our family began formally recycling about the time man first landed on the moon, and has never stopped. Fast forward 40 years. In my home town of Vancouver, BC, Canada, recycling is required, and garbage is spot-checked for infractions. Yet here in Central Ohio, Ann and I must pay for the privilege of recycling. Only two families do so on our street.

StoryOfStuffToday, US consumers have trashed ninety-nine percent of all goods they buy within six months of the date of purchase. Only one percent is still in use. The US – five percent of the world’s population – consumes 30 percent of the world’s resources and creates 30 percent of the world’s garbage. It is horrifying to think that much of the world’s population would be clamoring to emulate the US. Visit this website – www.storyofstuff.com – for a brilliant animated presentation sponsored by the Tides Foundation, and others.

Bottom line – if your business model depends on rampant consumerism, planned and perceived obsolescence and depends upon externalized costs, your free ride may run out, really soon. Which brings us to the next issue…

Public companies will be at even worse odds with the people leading them: As a system, the stock markets (i.e. Wall Street, stockholders, 24-year-old analysts in cubicles, news media, etc.) wants public corporations to focus short-term to produce unending growth of revenue and profit. As humans, the presidents and CEO’s go home to their families – children and grandchildren – whom they care about very much. It is natural that they would want to use all their supposed influence to give them a better future – say, reversing global warming. But to do so, they must go back to work and focus long-term – whereupon they are promptly fired for not keeping their eyes on quarterly profit performance.

In the end, we as a global community must institute a new definition of success for public companies. We must create markets that value planetary stewardship in addition to ROI in setting the share prices on the daily exchange.

There will be no silver bullet: There is no single thing that will reverse global warming, nor two, nor three. There will likely be seven to fifteen major initiatives, and thousands of minor ones. Of these options, conservation – using less in the first place – should be at the top of the list. This is great news for business, both large and small, because it means that no one will have a monopoly on the business opportunities presented by this crisis / opportunity. In the next decade, there will be a flow of funding and resources to this megaproject that will be measured in percentages of our planetary GDP.

A suggestion for how to build momentum to change:

Ann and I are acutely aware of our own immense discomfort in relating to this issue. Yet, we want to know reality even more, and that lets us take one more step. Here’s what you might consider:

  1. Go watch the video footage at National Geographic’s  Six Degrees Could Change the World site, then read the summary for policymakers at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change site.
  2. Watch The Story of Stuff.
  3. At the very least, read the last chapter – Choosing our Future – of Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, by Mark Lynas.
  4. Browse The Climate Conservancy site.
  5. For your business, schedule reviews of business strategy and process. Research what your suppliers are doing. Evaluate your liability for disposal of your products. Re-think how you generate wealth, and realign your strategy to mitigate, and even profit from reversing global warming.
  6. WE_Logo_TM_RGB-1In your personal life, take inventory on your progress toward reducing your environmental footprint. There are thousands of sites to help. We Can Solve the Climate Crisis, a project of the Alliance for Climate Protection, founded by Nobel Laureate, Al Gore, is a great site recommended by our colleagues. National Geographic launched The Green Guide, where I found this excellent article on switching to green power through our existing public utility. Google “Carbon Footprint” for many more options.

The biggest change in the business and social climate in our time will be the change from a society of consumption and competition to a society of sustainability and cooperation. Plan to be part of leading this change. And if it wouldn’t be too much bother, please start today. Seven years will pass in a blink of an eye.

© 2008 Gary Ralston and the respective copyright holders – all rights reserved

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GeekNotes: Business Learning, iPods and the Spoken Word

promo_whichipod_img20070905Today, a colleague of mine wrote to ask about making the best business use of his new iPod. It’s a great question, and applies equally to people who have purchased the iPhone, or any other portable media player. While this article is aimed at personal use by the busy executive, consider that many corporations and universities are using iPods to deliver training and communications with great success.

Ann and I have purchased over 200 audiobooks since 2003, a mix of business, non-fiction, fiction and instructional material. I have also tried a variety of podcasts and instructional videos, and have experimented with recording meetings with iPod microphone accessories. Beyond work, our entire family is into audiobooks. We have – no lie – SAVED summer holidays with the right selection of family-friendly audiobooks to while away the highway miles.

Ease of use and balance of features are keys to the iPod’s market success. We use iTunes to sync our library of media to our iPods. This setup is simple, elegant, and available on both our Mac and Windows computers. If you have another brand of media player, or are using Windows Media Player, the concepts should still apply.

Here are a few thoughts:

iPods are great for multitasking, but audiobooks, podcasts, and video all take more focus.

We listen to audiobooks when we can control interruptions for 15 or more minutes at a time. It’s easy to pause music, or even pop out the earbuds without a worry about your “place”. Not so with audiobooks. You don’t want to lose your place, or miss anything, so interruptions are awkward as you try to be polite while pulling out of the universe of the book and fumbling for the pause button. So we save the audiobooks for exercising, mowing the lawn, in-flight, walking the dog, or our regular three-hour drives to Indianapolis to visit family.

Video on my little iPod Nano is surprisingly sharp, but it requires my full, seated attention. I have instructional videos loaded, but don’t often have the occasion to watch them. If you fly much, or your commute involves public transit, video blogs may work better for you.

There is no shortage of material – but the narrator and the writing can make or break the experience.

If you are reading Harry Potter novels, you know J. K. Rowling, but if you are listening to books you come to know and love the voicings of narrator, Jim Dale. While I love and recommend the writings of business consultant, Ram Charan, I fatigue when he narrates his own material. Some books come alive in your hands – Tufte’s “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” comes to mind – but flop when read aloud. Ann had to stop listening to a lovely book narrated by actor, Brendan Fraser, because she couldn’t reconcile the book’s content with her images of Fraser’s cartoonish Tarzan character from Disney’s “George of the Jungle”!

Almost all audio storefronts let you listen to a sample from the audio production. Make sure you can handle the narrator’s voice for 5 to 20 hours.

Watch out for abridged versions.

Audiobooks come in Unabridged and Abridged versions. Ann and I almost ALWAYS get unabridged versions of fiction. I accidentally bought and listened to an abridged version of “The DaVinci Code”, by Dan Brown – spoiled it for me. With his next book, I was extra-careful to select, “Angels and Demons (unabridged)”. Abridged versions of business books are usually okay.

iPods since the ‘mini’ can play Audiobooks faster or slower than normal.

Why would you change the speed?

  • FASTER (For flying through business books – they CAN be dry, yes?),
  • NORMAL (for fiction and listening to the incredible narrators,) and
  • SLOWER (for note-taking or language study, I guess – I’ve never had occasion to use it).

The neat trick is that this doesn’t drive the voice pitch up to ‘chipmonk’ (Sorry, Alvin!) To set audiobook play speed on an iPod, choose Settings > Audiobooks and choose a speed. Setting the play speed affects audiobooks purchased from the iTunes Store or audible.com, or files converted to .aa or .m4b formats.

There are LIFETIMES of audiobook, podcast and spoken word media available.

Our favorite sources:

  • audibledotcomAudiobooks: we subscribe to Audible.com. The iTunes Music Store also carries the Audible.com inventory, and has a few exclusives, but an Audible.com subscription is much more affordable.
  • podcasts_icon20070905Podcasts: including free content, we use the iTunes Music Store. Great podcasts include David Maister’s business master class; CBC Radio 3 – new Canadian artists, eh?; BBC, PRI, PBS and NPR productions; Newspaper and newsmagazine blogs, including WSJ, NYT, WIRED, Globe & Mail…
  • i_in_sessionInstructional Media and Lectures: Apple collaborates with universities to present “iTunes U“. Much of the content is free, and the calibre of the lecturers is, well, genius.

iPods can be high quality RECORDING devices, too.

iLoungeNeed an audio recording of a presentation or meeting? There are a host of microphone accessories that turn your iPod and iPhone into a stereo digital recorder. Read all about it at iLounge.com.

These are simply starting points. Go to your favorite websites and publications and poke around for podcasts you can subscribe to, directly, or through other storefronts. And while there’s plenty good for your business brain here, treat yourself to some of the amazing best selling fiction and incredible narration available, in every genre, both at the iTunes Music Store and Audible.com. Happy multitasking!

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