Friday, May 11, 2020
What would a Hamburger Manager do?
You’ve probably all seen the bumper stickers that exhort you to ask yourself “What would Jesus do?” or “What would The Buddha do?” Their purpose is to urge you to pause before some important ethical or personal decision, using the question to make yourself consider the issue in greater depth—usually with Jesus’ or The Buddha’s teachings in mind. This is my own version of this idea, aimed at helping you to be a better Slow Leader.
Instead of using the teachings of a famous religious figure as a guide to how you ought to react in some difficult situation, I’m going to suggest the opposite: that you take a few seconds of time out to think about what the typical macho, “grab-and-go,” Hamburger Manager would do—then avoid that option whenever you can.
There are two reasons for suggesting this. One: Hamburger Management responses have become the unthinking norm in many organizations, so it will force you to think creatively about a different approach. Two: most of our management problems today are caused by sticking with this out-dated and discredited way of managing, so choosing something else is virtually guaranteed to be better.
Here’s how it might work:
- Profits are falling and sales are looking shaky. What would a Hamburger Manager do? He or she would cut costs violently (to restore profits in the short term), lay off people (to cut costs still more), and use threats and oppressive supervision to drive those who remain to find quick-fixes to push up sales. The result would be a short-term lift, followed by more long-term decline.
By avoiding this approach, sensible managers might take the time to explore why profits and sales are in decline, perhaps uncovering quality problems, poor customer service, technology issues, or loss of competitiveness through obsolescent products. Any solution would be permanent and long-term, without the blow to morale.
- Results are extremely good. Performance is high. There is ample cash available for discovering new ways to grow and sustain the organization. What would a Hamburger Manager do? Hand out huge amounts of money in bonuses and share options to top executives, start on a spree of ill-considered acquisitions, begin claiming to be a management genius and solicit sycophantic articles in major magazines, and generally spend his or her time in actions aimed at self-aggrandizement. Then announce impossible targets (based purely on ego and showing off) and try to force the organization to meet them. Generaly drive the organization's results up like a rocket (and soon down like the stick).
By avoiding this, executives might spend the cash wisely, keeping their heads and realizing that good times rarely last, accept that luck was probably a major reason for success, and focus instead on trying to strengthen the organization for long-term, sustainable growth (and against the tough times that will surely follow some day).
- The media (or some consulting firm) announce that the organization spends far more on staff costs than some supposed “benchmarks.” What would a Hamburger Manager do? Cut staffing, find ways to lower benefits and payments to staff, get back as quickly as possible to the benchmark level—so good people leave, it’s harder to attract talent for the future, and there is a general decline in innovation, creativity, and the availability of good staff.
The alternative? Probably to ignore the announcement and do nothing at all, so long as those extra costs are there because the staff are of a higher quality than in most organizations, and doing a great job. Most of these supposed benchmarks have no real validity anyway. Many (perhaps most) are invented by consultants as a way to solicit business.
- A new CEO (division head, head of department) is appointed, perhaps to try to revive the organization after a bad patch. What would a Hamburger Manager do? Fire, or otherwise remove, as many as possible of the existing management team and replace them with his or her own people (a.k.a. cronies). Sweep away as much as possible of the previous way of doing things. Organize a series of high-profile meetings, complete with lengthy Powerpoint presentations, to announce vague and grandiose new strategies. Review the performance of the staff and demonstrate “toughness” by letting go everyone rated as “below average.” The result would be a period of total chaos and confusion, during which results would probably fall still further. If so, the new person might be fired, and the process would repeat.
An alternative would be to spend time listening to current staff, make as few changes as possible during this learning period, show that good people had nothing to fear from the new regime, and seek out and act on creative ideas from all sides for turning things around. Which would make you stay and do your very best?
Friday, May 04, 2020
Slow Leadership in practice
Based on both a New York Times piece, and his own personal experience, Bob will introduce you to what has been described as “The Coolest Small Company in America.”
Look at this:
But neither the festivities nor the variety would have been possible if Zingerman’s co-founder, Paul Saginaw, had not dragged his business partner, Ari Weinzweig, to a bench in front of the deli about 15 years ago and demanded that they start thinking about where they wanted their business to wind up. Mr. Weinzweig was reluctant to break away from his routine of running the deli, then generating about $6 million a year in sales, to brainstorm. But Mr. Saginaw insisted. Two years later, the result was a vision for what they hoped to achieve by 2009 — well beyond the 5-year or even 10-year plans that most businesses scope out for themselves.Is that taking the long-term view or what?
How about this attitude to business? The deli’s prices approach New York levels and yet Zingerman’s profit margins are extremely thin. Why is that? Because of the company’s total commitment to high-quality products.
The price difference between regular turkey and free range isn’t just 20 percent higher, it’s three times as much,” Grace Singleton, who manages the deli, said. “Could we do something different? Sure. Would it be authentic and feel as great? No.”Zingerman’s shares its financial picture with its employees, pays good salaries and wages, gives generous vacation time (as much as six weeks after 20 years), plus health and dental care and food discounts. Full-time employees also receive “gain sharing,” if their part of the company exceeds its annual business plan. Could the owners increase their profits and make that bottom line look better if they took the Circuit City approach and paid as little as possible? Sure. Would that be “authentic and feel as great,” if they did? No way. Would they stay a great business and “The Coolest Small Company in America?” What do you think?
Here’s what the owners say about today’s business shibboleth, profit:
The structure also helps explain why margins remain low even as revenue has risen. To pay employees, support local producers and contribute to the community, “a big piece of it is charging enough money,” Mr. Weinzweig said. But Mr. Saginaw said profit, in itself, was not Zingerman’s motivation. “We’ve had dozens and dozens of opportunities to franchise, sell the name, take the check and walk away,” Mr. Saginaw said. Instead, Mr. Weinzweig said, the idea was to create a special experience. “Our goal in 2020 is to leave our world better than it was when we came here,” he said.If every business took that viewpoint, our world would be transformed. There would be just as much prosperity and economic growth, but all would share in it, instead of some getting all the gourmet meals and others having to make do with water and dry bread.
If a company takes the long-term view, stays committed to quality and honesty, and treats its employees in a civilized way, what more can anyone ask of it?
As Bob says in his article:
After living in Silicon Valley so long, where there is so much greed, and just about everyone seems focused on squeezing every cent [out] of everyone around them -- employees, customers, suppliers -- Zingerman’s is a refreshing reminder that financial greed isn’t always the first priority for every owner and manager.Long may Zingerman’s prosper!
Monday, April 30, 2020
What does it mean?
Today’s management approaches are all abstractions and no humanity
Hamburger Management has a spreadsheet in place of a heart and a profit-and-loss statement for a soul. Is it any wonder that is has to resort to violent, artificial means of motivating people? Giving huge rewards to a chosen few and driving the rest by threats and intimidation isn’t motivation. Nor is using smart sound-bites and slogans. There is only one way to fill people with joy in what they do and bring out their highest abilities—and that way hasn’t changed since the human race began.Motivation is the subject of more articles and training courses than almost any other management “technique.” Yet I’m constantly appalled at the nonsense that I see written and handed out on the topic. Mostly, Hamburger Management ignores the purely human aspects of the enterprise, preferring to focus on spreadsheets, ratios, and results. It does notice motivation however—mostly, I suspect, because that seems to offer a way of getting people to work harder for the same pay or even less. Hamburger Managers are expected to motivate their people,
often by standing behind them wielding a big stick. If that doesn’t work, they stand just ahead, waving a large carrot and shifting it just out of reach each time their people get close enough to feel they might be able to get their hands on it.
This kind of artificial, carrot-and-stick motivation is a potent cause of workplace stress. It’s as if you’re in a car driven by someone who accelerates madly whenever there’s some space ahead, then stands on the brakes when they seem about to throw you headlong into something. It doesn’t make for a relaxing ride, and it’s hell on the brakes and the tires. Yet that’s the atmosphere in many organizations today: a scary ride mixing being forced to drive way too fast with suddenly being dragged to a halt when the organization decides it can’t afford what it will take to make you keep up the constant acceleration.
What all this sham motivation misses is what truly makes people love their jobs.
MeaningPeople only care deeply about what they do when it gives their lives meaning and purpose. They don’t really work for money, they work for what money means to them: security, good food, pleasure, status, fun, relaxation. They don’t respond to incentives, they respond to what the incentives mean in their lives: praise, recognition, self-worth, and a sense of value from achievement. Even punishment and threats only work when they truly mean humiliation, loss, or sharp, personal pain.
Managers who ignore this haven’t a hope of producing anything but the minimum effort.
Part of something wonderfulTrue motivation means giving people something real to care about—lasting values like truth, friendship, honor, loyalty, justice, love, and self-worth. It means letting them see why they’re doing what they’re asked to do, and how it will contribute to something they find worthwhile. Of course people want personal success and rewards. But few want these things at any price. Instead, the vast majority of folk give the highest value to the feeling that they are part of something wonderful. They want to believe that the world (or, at least, the part of it that they inhabit) cares about and values what they do.
They also want to feel that the organization cares about them. Slowing down gives leaders time to explain the meaning of the work, to show its value. It also lets them that show that they care about their people.
Blood, sweat, and tearsWhen someone truly cares about us, we almost automatically start to care about them. All the great leaders of the past have known this. Napoleon talked personally with his soldiers and handed out medals to show them that he cared about their hurts and valued their bravery. They responded by fighting for him until the last. Winston Churchill walked in the bombed ruins of London and spoke the words the defiant people would have spoken if they’d had his eloquence. He didn’t talk about abstractions, like overall war plans or strategic objectives. He spoke about real things: blood, sweat and tears. He embodied the values the nation was fighting for. He gave meaning to people’s efforts to stay alive and fight back.
Hand people instructions and they’ll do no more than you tell them to—and maybe not even that. Give them rules and they’ll find ways around them. Talk about financial ratios, profitability, and return on investment, and their eyes will glaze over. But give people something to believe in—a sense of meaning and purpose in what they do— and show them that they matter, and they’ll produce efforts and results you wouldn’t have imagined possible.
Tuesday, April 17, 2020
Antidotes to Hamburger Management
How to rid yourself and your organization of poisonous management.
Hamburger Management is management based on always doing whatever is quickest, simplest, and (above all) cheapest. Hamburger Managers provide the kind of leadership that is best described as: “Never mind the quality, look how fast it goes, and how cheap it is.” Sadly, this approach is being forced on a great many otherwise perfectly reasonable and responsible people by the continual demands of those at the top to meet inflated expectations of short-term profit. If you have been forced in the past into Hamburger Management approaches, can you find a way out? Are there antidotes to purge you of the poison? There are. Here are some of the best.Is there hope for Hamburger Managers? Can they go to re-hab, like politicians and media stars, to be returned to society as reformed characters? Is there a de-toxification program? Indeed there is, and it doesn’t need you to stay in some remote resort or engage the services of a shrink. Let us reveal all.
One of the best antidotes to Hamburger Management is kindness in leadership and business dealings. That was the basis of my article: Is the Worm Turning? Macho, grab-and-go management styles, like Hamburger Management, are universally callous towards anyone who gets in the way of creating maximum (personal) profit in minimum time. In a civilized society, that really ought to be intolerable. If your words and actions are always marked by kindness, you cannot fall into Hamburger Management ways. It’s not possible. Be kind, always, and you’ll be free of the poison at once.
Check your ego at the door when you arrive each morning. I’ve long held the belief that the best way to “inspire” bosses to act in civilized ways would be to make any other behavior socially unacceptable. Nothing would change hearts and minds quicker that the prospect of being ostracized at the golf club; or no longer being invited to dinner by the “right kind of people” in the locality. Egotism is an intrinsic part of Hamburger Management. These macho management styles are sold to people on the basis that getting things done, even when it all seems impossible given the limited time and resources, will make you look good. And egotism is all about me, isn’t it? My career, my targets, my job security. If, instead, what you experienced was being shunned by all reasonable people, no one would stick with Hamburger Management for a week.
In a past posting called Take Any Two From Four . . ., I explained that work can be quick, cheap, innovative or good—but you can only have two of those qualities at any one time. Good, innovative work isn’t going to be cheap or quick, because it takes time and resources to break away from the dead hand of conformity. Quick, cheap ways of doing business (the hallmark of Hamburger Management) more or less ensure that the work done won’t be good (too expensive) or innovative (too slow and risky). That’s how good businesses go downhill, by focusing on short-term profits instead of lasting value. To remove the poison of Hamburger Management from your systems, as well as your own approach to leadership, make sure that you concentrate on long-term approaches whenever you can. Sort-term actions should flow from long-term strategies, not the other way around.
Hamburger Management cannot exist in the presence of genuine respect for others. The surest way to alienate and demotivate others is to deny them respect. Macho, grab-and-go management does this all the time. People are treated as “human resources:” depersonalized objects that are simply costs, tolerated only as long as there is no cheaper alternative. If you can do without them, fine. If you can’t, but can outsource the work somewhere where people will work for much lower pay, also fine—even if those people are little better than slaves in some Third-World sweatshop. The minute you feel that you can find a cheaper way, forget any soft ideas about loyalty to your workers. As Circuit City showed recently, with a Hamburger Management approach you shouldn't waste time considering the possibility that what you’re doing is barbaric and marks you and your business out as *ssholes on a massive scale.
Nothing slows business down more than time spent in pointless meetings, but it’s not the kind of slowing down we advocate at Slow Leadership. Too many meetings have absolutely nothing to do with communicating information—and still less with listening to other peoples’ thoughts and ideas. Here’s a very quick list of the most common—but almost never acknowledged—reasons for holding meetings:
- Demonstrating your power and authority by proving that you can call people together, regardless of how busy they are—just because you want to.
- Giving yourself a platform for pontificating and polishing your ego.
- Playing office politics. Meetings are a great forum for practicing one-upmanship and humiliating political opponents.
- Holding fake consultations so that you can claim others were party to some decision. A great way to cover your butt if things go wrong.
- Demonstrating how busy and important you are (because you have to attend so many meetings).
There are only two genuine reasons for holding a meeting:
- Sharing information when you are willing—and able—to answer any questions immediately; and when the subject matter is such that large groups of people need to get identical information at the same time.
- Situations when you are willing to seek genuine ideas, thoughts, and feedback from the participants and listen to what is said honestly and with an open mind.
Instead of cluttering up people’s time with silly meetings, constant phone calls to “check progress,” foolish demands for progress reports, and other childish activities based on your own suspicions and fears, why not try trusting your subordinates to do their jobs? Give them the space, time, trust, and support to make it happen. If more corporations tried that approach, I believe they would discover they have plenty of time to get everything done, without all the stress and long hours. All they need to do is to free themselves from pointless reporting, useless meetings, the collection of meaningless statistics, petty rules, the preparing of endless PowerPoint presentations with justifications for any and every minor action, and all the other common means of covering those so-delicate executive butts.
Good business is not about being quick, simple, or cheap. It’s about being better at what you do than anyone else. And that includes service, quality, and innovation too. That’s why Hamburger Management is ultimately self-defeating. Rushing, cutting corners, compromising quality and innovation to get quick profits, sacrificing long-term success for short-term gratification, strutting around like an oversized rooster, feeding your already-inflated ego, and pretending that you are John Wayne are the marks of an immature mind and a crippled personality.
That’s not business, it’s personal display, like a stag at the rutting ground. Save it for trying to impress other gullible idiots. The rest of us already think you’re a total jerk.
Thursday, April 12, 2020
Of Expansive Egos and Hamburger Managers
Can organizations afford what corporate egos are costing them?
"To have without possessing,
do without claiming,
lead without controlling;
this is mysterious power."
Tao Te Ching, Lau Tzu (tr. Ursula K. Le Guin)
Ego and egotism are endemic to Hamburger Management, but fatal to good leadership. Egotism causes over-optimism, over-confidence, and arrogance. Big egos inflate people into domineering monsters focused on petty personal victories, who wreck relationships and rush to take on too much, in the erroneous belief that they’re the only people sufficiently capable. Then such people demand too much from their teams to sustain their crazy, inflated Superman or Wonder Woman images. Giving up that ego would cut everyone’s stress—and transform their leadership too.Buddhists have long claimed a false belief in the ego is a principle cause of human suffering. I’m inclined to agree with this. In the Buddhist view, there is no ego. It’s a mental concept without true substance, generated by incorrect thinking and a poor grasp of reality. Because it isn’t something that can exist on its own, it must be constantly fed with the three elements in the quotation at the head of this posting: possession, claims of personal “ownership” of events and outcomes, and delusions of control. Exactly the same behavior characterizes most Hamburger Managers.
What happens when a leader can’t have without possessing? Everything becomes his. It’s his team, his authority, his areas of responsibility and command, his decisions alone. No one must be allowed to share his power—or his rewards—so no one can share the burdens either. Any questioning of his decisions becomes a personal attack and proof of disloyalty. To take anything of his away threatens his very existence.
This is a quick route to paranoia and dictatorship. The leader who can’t let go of his ego-driven urge to possess everything can’t accept colleagues, only subordinates. He can’t allow others to do whatever they can do as well—or better—than him, in case that makes him look insufficient. No one can help him, no one can truly support him, because he cannot share anything. In his crazed urge to possess it all, he sets himself up to lose it all instead.
Similarly, the leader who claims every success, every gain, every useful action as hers frustrates all those around her. She cannot do without claiming. It’s all hers—except the failures, of course. She won the order (though she never met the customer); she had that great new idea (after someone else explained it to her); she’s the one solely responsible for exceeding the budget and cutting costs (though her team created the plan, implemented it, and bore the burdens of overwork and long hours).
In reality, all that she’s responsible for (but never claims) is alienating her people, irritating her colleagues, and becoming so filled with inflated ideas of her own importance that she’s a universal pain in the butt. Why is there any need to claim anything? If it’s done—and done well—what more is required? If someone else did it, give them the praise they’re due. Only peoples’ needy, insecure egos demand constant reassurance it’s all down to them.
Good leaders don’t need to exercise control as they lead. People follow them because they want to; because they like, respect, admire, emulate, and even love the leader. There’s no call for rules, enforcement, punishment, and informers: all the paraphernalia of the typical command-and-control, macho culture of many organizations. They have to operate like police states because the leaders’ egos crave the false reassurance that they’re in control. The more any leader resorts to commands and enforcement, the less he or she leads. The ego is calling all the shots.
I’ve drawn these pictures in harsh outlines, but we’ve all suffered under leaders who show some—sometimes most—of these destructive behaviors, at least in less extreme forms. Egotism is a pervasive curse. The claim that all power corrupts is a direct consequence of the malignant ability of an inflated ego to turn a previously pleasant, competent manager into a leadership monster.
True leadership sometimes seems to be a mysterious power—but only because the leader doesn’t appear to do anything except be herself. It looks effortless, yet it’s powerful beyond expectation. She gives away authority, power, position, and recognition as if she has no interest in such possessions—which is true. She also hands out rewards, praise, respect, and support to all who merit them; then receives more in return than she gave away. She has everything, yet claims nothing for herself. She gets everything done, yet points to others as the ones who did it. Ask them and they’ll tell you she was the one responsible. They did it for her, under her oversight, to meet her specifications. She never appears to control anything. There’s no need. Everyone rushes to what what she asks. Better still, they strain to anticipate her wishes before she ever articulates them. They love working for her and they love her. Why? Because she makes them feel wanted, needed, and valued.
Let go of your ego. It’s a burden that you don’t need. Besides, it doesn’t really exist—unless you act as if it does. To achieve the power that enables, not corrupts, stop possessing, claiming, and controlling . . . and try caring and leading instead.
Thursday, April 05, 2020
Taking a positive view of procrastination
Putting things off may be a sign that you haven’t done what you need to do to make a firm decision
I’m amazed how many blog postings, articles, e-books, and books there are claiming to cure procrastination. It must be a global pandemic, worse than bird flu could ever be. If there are enough people who habitually procrastinate to justify so many words and prescriptions, it’s a miracle any work is done at all. Yet is procrastination always a failing? What if it’s telling you something that you need to hear?Hardly anyone ever looks at the positive benefits of procrastination. There seems to be a universal assumption it’s an almost moral failing to be eradicated. Perhaps that’s because of the prevalence of the Puritan Work Ethic. Procrastination is assumed to derive from laziness; and there’s no greater sin in the Puritan Work Ethic Catalog of Deadly Sins than laziness. And if it’s not laziness that’s the problem, it’s poor organization. Use this or that planning tool and never procrastinate again! Whipping up concern about procrastination is a wonderful marketing ploy for anyone with something like that to sell.
But are laziness or poor organization the only reasons for procrastination? Sure, both happen sometimes, but many of the “cures” put forward for poor organization are so simple it’s hard to believe people haven’t already tried them—even if they didn’t buy the expensive software yet. (It used to be planner diaries, but now it’s software. Same difference.) And while some people are lazy, I’m not at all sure that it’s as prevalent as all those anti-procrastination urgings would suggest.
I’m more interested in the reasons why people procrastinate. When you consider those, it seems procrastination may often be a sensible, even essential, response. Here are some possible reasons:
- One of the commonest reasons for putting something off until later is fear: fear of making a fool of yourself, fear of getting it wrong, fear of doing something you know that you can’t do properly. Fear is our natural warning system. It may be rational or irrational, but it should always cause you to slow down and think before going further.
Is the fear imaginary or real? Many are imaginary. You conjure up all kinds of potentially bad situations in your mind, then convince yourself they’re bound to happen. Total nonsense, of course. Still, you may have benefited by the moment’s pause to consider them and dismiss them as foolish. But not all fears are illusory. Some are warnings of real pitfalls ahead; problems you would do well to consider in advance. In such cases, procrastination may save you from serious harm.
- Next there’s that uneasy feeling you get about some choices. They seem sensible, but there’s a niggling question in the back of your mind. Something about them doesn’t feel right. So you procrastinate.
That’s entirely rational behavior. If something doesn’t feel right—and you aren’t absolutely forced into instant action—it’s logical to hold back until you can resolve the problem. Using some planning tool to override your unformed concerns isn’t a good idea. Once again, there may be nothing to worry about. But if there is, far better to take your time and get it straight first. Another plus for procrastination.
- You may also procrastinate because you suspect that you aren’t ready to handle something. Yet another good reason to wait. Or because you didn’t do the necessary preparatory work and think you might be caught out by lack of preparation. Or because you aren’t sure you’ve considered all the options. All excellent reasons for delay. All positive kinds of procrastination.
- Another common cause of holding back occurs when you believe you ought to do something, but you don’t want to do it. Surely this is a situation where pushing past your urge to procrastinate is essential?
Hold on a little. Why don’t you want to do it? You might be right to hold back. There are many cases where all those “shoulds” or “oughts” have no rational basis. They’re there because it’s the conventional thing to do, or someone else is pushing you to fit their agenda, or because of some rigid dogma or traditional belief. None of these make them right. If something is holding you back, you should at least explore it properly before allowing yourself to be bulldozed into action by a “should” or an “ought.” Take it as another warning and act on it.
- Then there’s one of the commonest reasons: pressure. There’s someone, usually the boss, driving you on to do something that you don’t believe is right, or even sensible. You’ve raised your objections, but have been told to keep quiet and do what you’re told. Maybe you’re under pressure to make sure “the numbers” look right, but you know that isn’t in the organization’s best interests longer term. Is it right to delay? Or should you forget your scruples and comply? Not an easy decision, and one that almost anyone would want to take time over.
Many years ago, I was told this story by a policeman in Birmingham, England. The newspapers had been full of dire warnings about the terrible state of local schoolchildrens’ understanding of simple arithmetic. Everything was blamed, from incompetent teaching to laziness amongst pupils and apathy from parents. My policeman friend didn’t believe a word of it. He told me about a young man he’d arrested many times for various betting scams. This boy (he was fifteen) had almost no education and could barely read or write. Ask him any normal math problem and he’d be lost. But he could calculate betting odds, and the pay-out on the most complicated multiple series of linked bets, in the blink of an eye. No mistakes. What he truly wanted to do, he did. The rest meant nothing to him.
Before you sweep your hesitation aside, stop and think. What may it be telling you? Is it just laziness and disorganization? Or are you being rushed into something that is making you feel uneasy—perhaps with very good reason.
One of the worst aspects of many organizational cultures is the over-emphasis on action and related denial of the importance of taking time to reflect fully before making any important decisions. Rushing intro something unprepared, or with too little consideration, is hardly a sound basis for success. Yet tens of thousands of people have swallowed the idea that, to be a good leader, you have to be willing to take snap decisions on just about everything. There are even books extolling the supposed merits of the process: making decisions in the blink of an eye, rather than taking the time needed to consider options and alternatives properly. Against a measure like that, almost any response other than an instant one looks like procrastination. Perhaps that’s why it suddenly seems to be so prevalent.
Friday, March 30, 2020
Taking the time for complexity
Over-simplification and management by slogans threatens to drag us all into mediocrity
Hamburger Management is big on simplicity—and speed. It tries to find quick and simple answers to everything, since there’s no time available to develop a proper understanding of often complex situations. True experts in a topic can often make something extremely complex seem understandable by anyone, but that comes only as a result of decades of deep thought and experience. What Hamburger Management offers is simply the Disneyfication of leadership.
We live in a complex world. We’re complex creatures, full of complex thoughts and emotions. Nothing about us is straightforward, from the trillions of trillions of connections our brains can make to the way we’ve taken something as necessary as the continuance of our species and turned it into a maze of hopes, desires, fears and opportunities for righteous condemnation. Many of today’s organizations are massive—financially, geographically, and in terms of products handled and people employed. It’s probably fair to say that much of modern life, but especially business life, has never been more complex, interconnected, and far-reaching in its effects.
And still, despite all of this, managers and business leaders remain hooked on the notion that there’s a simple, quick answer to everything.
The myth that life is simple undermines comprehension, decision-making, learning, and even happiness.We’re urged to “keep it simple, stupid.” Complex projects, requiring decisions that may result in investments of millions of dollars, must be reduced to an “elevator speech” of thirty seconds or less. Opinions on matters so difficult and involved they almost defy comprehension are delivered in fifteen-second sound-bites. The Powerpoint presentation—that modern obsession designed to reduce every communication to a list of bullet points—has replaced any kind of reasoned argument, or careful explanation of options, evidence, and risks. Executives rush from meeting to meeting, rarely allowing themselves the time either to consider what they are about to decide, or reflect on what they have just accepted or turned down.
In an atmosphere like this, it become impossible to learn anything. The very best that can be done is to apply simplistic rules of thumb and take mostly emotionally-based decisions. Thoughts and the weighing of evidence take time. Emotional responses are virtually instant; plus they come with an impressive feeling of certainty, even if that feeling is based on almost nothing tangible. Is it any wonder that, in an age of news broadcasts reduced to slogans and sound bites sandwiched between far more extensive advertising, discussion programs aimed at producing confrontation rather than insight, and the written word reduced to books hyping “The Secret” and other panaceas for every known situation, few people even grasp the pressing need to slow down and allow yourself time to sort out fact from fiction and carefully-constructed spin?
The myth that life is simple undermines comprehension, decision-making, learning, and even happiness. Wishing doesn’t make the wish come true. Panaceas rise and fall with monotonous regularity, each one making a fortune for its proponents, then sinking almost without trace—only to be reborn a few years later in a fresh format. There is no credible evidence that the universe responds automatically to our thoughts and wishes, let alone the business world. Intention may help focus your thinking, but it provides no guarantee of success. Simple answers are simple for a very good reason: most of them have sacrificed understanding and reality in favor of sounding good.
Facts will stand up to any scrutiny. Hype and spin cannot stand up to a single, well-chosen question.It’s a sad failing of the human race that we nearly all want something for nothing—to be able to enjoy the fruits of success without the effort (and the time) that it always takes. Since civilization began, there have been glib snake-oil salesmen peddling easy, no-fail answers to life’s problems; just as there have been gurus of every kind assuring their followers that all it takes to win happiness and salvation is obedience to their every word and a few simple “spiritual”or mental exercises—known, of course, only to them.
Embrace life’s complexity. Don’t fall prey to the naive illusion that there is a simple, easy answer to every problem. Go beneath the spin, the presentation, the marketing, to the meaning below. Demand to see the evidence. Then demand the time to test and check that evidence fully. Facts and sound logic will stand up to any scrutiny. Hype and spin cannot stand up to a single, well-chosen question. Don't be hurried. Speed is usually a principal factor in disasters of every kind. The person in a rush is the one who misses all the warning signs, cuts all the corners, and jumps to conclusions without any real evidence to back them up.
Hamburger Management urges us to operate in a multiple-choice manner in a business world full of long, complex essay questions. To be genuinely simple takes long periods of time and enormous effort devoted to understanding issues in their full complexity—plus outstanding intelligence. To be simplistic takes neither effort nor thought nor time to consider and reflect. Slow Leadership isn’t slow for no reason. It’s slow because it takes time to get complex things right. Anyone can make a mistake in a heartbeat.
There’s power and interest and potential in complexity. Why throw it away to accept today’s shoddy, simplistic alternatives? Why take the risk of getting things badly wrong, just to save time in the short-term? Won’t those hurried mistakes mean that you’ll have to spend even more time later to try to put them right?
Friday, March 23, 2020
Real courage is knowing when to let go
Why “hanging tough” is typically a sign of leadership cowardice.
Letting go of the past—even the most successful and joyful parts—is an essential discipline for everyone. Too many of us cling to burdens that no longer fulfill any useful purpose, lacking the courage to face reality and give lost hopes and failed ideas a decent burial. Stress, pain, and frustration are all we get in exchange for such misplaced loyalty. Buddhists believe that most of the troubles people face are caused by “attachment”—by our habit of clinging to ideas and situations that are long past their “use by” date. I believe there is a good deal of truth in this viewpoint, especially in the workplace.Many organizations, and their leaders, cling to products that should have been replaced, working practices that no longer work, management techniques that are long past whatever usefulness they ever had, and projects that should have been abandoned as unworkable months or years ago. People are loathe to give up what’s familiar, even when it causes them more problems than profit. They also invest so much of their self-esteem and credibility in some of these outdated activities that giving them up feels like having a limb amputated.
And while we all know that those in positions of authority—and that includes ourselves—tell lies when it seems useful to do so, the lies and half-truths that we tell ourselves always result in the most pain and frustration. It’s too easy to convince ourselves that it will all come right, if only we persist just a little longer, when the reality is that all chance of success disappeared long ago.
In today’s macho cultures—especially Hamburger Management—being a “quitter” is almost the ultimate term of abuse. It isn’t only in the political arena that the “tough guys” constantly claim that their critics are going to “cut and run.” For macho management types, almost any kind of desperate clinging to failing ideas can be supported for years by claiming that the alternative involves weakness and cowardice.
In reality, of course, letting go of something often demands extraordinary courage, especially if it was once a much-loved and extremely successful operation. Sadly, nothing in this world lasts for ever and even the most successful ideas eventually run out of steam. That’s why we all need to take time out on a regular basis to question our preconceptions and review our lives for the sins of clinging to something we ought to let pass.
When is it time to summon the courage to let go?
- When something that used to be important or successful is showing signs that its power is waning. The technique you mastered way back then that has served you so well, but now seems to have lost its edge. The approach on which you built your reputation, but which is being replaced by fresh ideas or new technologies. The beliefs that have sustained you, but whose truth you are now unsure about.
- When a hope, a dream, or an expectation isn’t going to happen. We all suffer from selective vision, clinging to our dreams and hopes long after it’s become plain that they aren’t going to come to fruition. Few things cause more frustration, misery, and stress to ourselves and those around us than hanging on to some increasingly forlorn belief. It’s like carrying a corpse around, pretending life will somehow return.
- When a plan or a project has clearly failed. Giving up is an extremely tough thing to do, especially when you know that some of your credibility is going to be lost, along with time, cash, and the organization’s expectations. It takes real courage to face reality and admit to being mistaken. Yet the alternative—to hang on until your rigid fingers are pried away from the levels of command—is still worse. Everyone else knows it has failed. Would you rather have their forgiveness for making a mistake; or their pity for being too stubborn and blind to admit to it?
- When enough is enough. Clinging to what is no longer useful causes pain to others as well as to you. You may be silly enough to accept that pain, but that does not give you the right to continue inflicting pain on others: you subordinates, your colleagues, your friends, or your family. Making others hurt to avoid admitting to your own folly is the ultimate in selfishness.
Old, outworn ideas; past achievements not firmly past; old grudges and half-forgotten wrongs; failed policies and projects that never quite made it; let them all go. Lighten your burden in this world. It’s tough enough going without weighing yourself down with all manner of useless baggage from the past.
Thursday, March 15, 2020
Maybe size DOES matter?
Are today’s huge corporations handicapped by sheer size in becoming civilized workplaces?
I am always delighted to receive comments on postings and they are almost always interesting, insightful, and even profound. What’s more, they frequently provoke me into thinking more about some issue that I foolishly imagine that I have exhausted.
A comment on yesterday’s posting about W. L. Gore’s achievement in being voted—for the fourth year in a row —the best company in Great Britain to work for made me think more about the possibility that their excellence is due in part to their size. Gore is quite a small company (about 450 people). Maybe size is a key element in making a workplace that is civilized and fun? Maybe large organizations cannot produce the kind of workplace that would win competitions of this kind?
Here’s what I wrote in my response to that helpful comment:
. . . the key point, for me, is that they [Gore] dare to be different, stick to their way of doing things, and don’t accept all the conventional crap about not being able to combine a profitable business model with a culture that people truly enjoy being part of.As I see it, there is a handicap affecting large corporation: it’s the fear of taking a risk. Most lack the courage to act in ways that are different from the norm. But the reason isn’t solely their fault. Gore is a private company; they have no external shareholders—no mutual funds, financial institutions, or hedge funds—breathing down their neck, demanding profits at the expense of everything else.
I am convinced that it’s quite possible for businesses of any size to make huge improvements in their corporate cultures, and still be successful in financial terms. In fact, the happier their people are, the lower the turnover, and the more relaxed and creative the minds behind business decisions, large and small, the greater that success is likely to be.
All it takes is three things that are, sadly, in very short supply in most top management ranks: the courage to be different, the imagination to see fresh possibilities, and the fortitude to ignore the inevitable carping and stick to what you believe is right.
Shareholders bear a very heavy responsibility for the pressure they put on corporations to avoid risk, maximize short-term profits, and generally toe the conventional, macho line on employment.Shareholders bear a very heavy responsibility for the pressure they put on corporations to avoid risk, maximize short-term profits, and generally toe the conventional, macho line on employment. I’m not saying that executives and directors are innocent parties, pressured by evil shareholders. Far from it. They join in happily enough, looking to approval from these same shareholders to justify the vast rewards they vote for themselves.
It’s a symbiotic relationship: shareholders see corporations merely as sources of profits from dividends and capital gains (the bigger the better). They have no interest in how such profits are made, so long as executive action doesn’t become so gross as to jeopardize future gains. And the executives then see the shareholders as their “bosses,” the ones who can increase their rewards . . . or take them away. Neither side wants to even considered putting this happy flow of money at risk by trying anything new.
Most executives seemed to me to be very ordinary people, lucky to have made it to extraordinary positions, and more than a little bewildered at what to do next.Courage, imagination, and fortitude: all are qualities most top leaders would instantly claim for their own. Sadly, their actions all to often prove that none of these fine attributes apply to them. They cravenly cling to convention, terrified of shareholder disapproval.
I’ve met many top executives. If I’m being honest, very few of them impressed me. Most executives seemed to me to be very ordinary people, lucky to have made it to extraordinary positions, and more than a little bewildered at what to do next. They lack the imagination to educate their own shareholders in the benefits they could provide by doing things differently. And they lack the fortitude to support those who do try something different, the minute that any criticism arises from the conservative-minded.
Can they change? We can all change. All it takes is realizing the need and making the effort.
Tuesday, March 13, 2020
If feeling safe is good, does feeling good require feeling safe too?
How circular thinking corrupts management action
Much of management thinking is marred by sweeping generalizations, egregious platitudes, and faulty or non-existent logic. Few aspects are worse than the circular definition, where the converse of some supposedly true statement is also assumed to be true. Until we rid ourselves of such silliness, we will continue to chase mirages and put our trust in falsehoods.Management thinking of the conventional kind is full of circular definitions. They work like this, beginning with a statement that is mostly true, then reversing it and assuming that is also true. For example, getting results quickly is good (a vague, but mostly true generalization), which is then reversed to create the (mostly false) generalization that quick results are a measure of how good something is (getting results quickly is good, therefore good means getting results quickly).
Aside from being non-existent logic, such circular definitions do real harm. Take this pair: successful people are good to have around, therefore to be good to have around you must be successful. Since many of the causes of success (circumstances, luck) are outside people’s control, defining “good” as “successful” actually means basing your definition more on luck than expertise or judgment. Besides, some successful people are not at all good to have around, since their success breeds outsize egos and a prima donna attitude to everyone else.
What about this one: profit is what business is all about, therefore all business is about profit. The first part of the statement is questionable (it ignores the social and technical aspects of business), yet is probably broadly true. Yet the second part is neither true nor follows from the first. Much of business has little to do directly with making a profit, being concerned instead with product development, long-term growth, and the discovery and exploitation of new markets (which may not generate any profit for years).
My final example is this: what you can measure you can control, therefore you cannot control what you cannot measure. This has the distinction of being false in both parts. There are many things we can measure, but not control, such as rainfall, the growth rate of our children, and the buying habits of our customers. And as for not being able to control what we cannot measure, that may be true of leaders unable to control their tempers, their egos, and their greed, but it doesn’t apply to the rest of us.
Beware of circular definitions based on nothing more than platitudes and apparent symmetry. Hard-working people sometimes find success, but it doesn’t follow that success is always due to hard work. Sometimes, it is; quite often it isn’t. Even those who believe money brings happiness don’t usually claim that happiness brings money. So why should they assume that working long hours brings success?
I’ll leave you with this thought: if continually cutting costs boosts the bottom line, does improving the bottom line depend mostly on cutting costs? Many of today’s organizations act as if it does—which is probably why they are on a descending spiral of cutbacks and lay-offs, not an ascending one of greater creativity, expanding markets, and exciting new products. Compare Ford with Toyota and you’ll see at once what I mean.
Monday, March 12, 2020
Are you enjoying the ride?
What jobs and roller-coasters have in common.
Like certain children on a ride at a theme park, many people aren’t enjoying the ride that their work or career is giving them. They only stay on the ride because they think that they must, due to peer pressure, fear of disapproval, or a hidden belief that there’s something wrong with them for not enjoying what everyone else says is so great. But is it true that all the others are enjoying the ride? Might they too choose to fake it for similar reasons?Have you ever watched the faces of children on a carousel of other fairground ride? Some show pure delight. Others display fear, boredom, or a self-conscious concern with how they appear to parents or friends watching them. For every child who is enjoying the ride, one or more is there only because they have to be, and would get off at once if only they felt it was possible. (As an aside, much the same seems to be true of adults on the far scarier rides at today’s theme parks).
The experiences of these children are almost identical to the experiences of many people in today’s workplaces. some truly enjoy the ride—even the scary parts. Others are doing what they do because they think that they must, not because they get any pleasure from it.
How often have you seen a frightened child being urged onto some ride by amused parents. “Come along,” they say. “Don’t be afraid. you’ll love it.” And, in many cases, the child finally does what the parents want. Do they love their ride? Some do, perhaps, but I suspect more only say that they do afterwards, wanting to please their parents and avoid appearing to be uncomfortable with what their parents so clearly approve.
We comply and smile, and pretend to be enjoying ourselves, rather than face the supposed consequences of defying authority.In the same way, many of us are urged into careers by authority figures—teachers, parents, ministers, even writers—and assured it will all be pleasure and gain once we overcome our strange reluctance at the start. And so we comply and smile, and pretend to be enjoying ourselves, rather than face the supposed consequences of defying authority.
Of course, peer pressure is equally important. Many of those inwardly frightened or bored children on the carousel are there because all their friends have indicated it’s the right, the exciting, the cool thing to do. These friends show off their “bravery” at facing the worst, most frightening theme park rides and enjoying them.
In work too, peer pressure keeps many people in jobs they dislike, or even hate.Does this sound familiar? Have you heard people boasting, not just that they can handle the crippling work pressures and ever-extending hours in the office, but that they actually enjoy the whole process? Can you bear to be left out? Can you bear to be marked down as a wimp and a pantywaist? In work too, peer pressure keeps many people in jobs they dislike, or even hate. Their friends all have expensive cars, huge homes, and crushing working weeks. “See how successful we are,” they say. “We’re rich and important. 80-hour weeks? Child’s play to people as tough as we are.” So you join in, afraid of what might be whispered behind your back at the golf club otherwise, or the pitying looks exchanged at the PTA meeting.
And the bored children? They aren’t afraid or excited. They can handle the ride, scary or not, but it has no real interest to them. In part, they are there for the same reason as the rest—pressure of some kind. But there is also, perhaps, an element of self-doubt. “Everyone says the ride is wonderful and exciting. Since I don’t find it to be either, may be there’s something wrong with me?” So they keep riding, attempting to hide their supposed “problem” and pretending to enjoy it like everyone else.
By any rational criteria, the conclusion is obvious: they should try something else. Yet they don’t.All too many people don’t enjoy their working lives. By any rational criteria, the conclusion is obvious: they should try something else. Yet they don’t. Many even pretend to enjoy their jobs, further fixing themselves into a stressful and meaningless round of drudgery and frustration.
Why is this? Like the children at the theme park, they have maybe given in to authority figures. Or they have accepted the notion that there’s something wrong with them: “This is a good job with a high salary. I ought to love it”. Or they are obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses and cannot contemplate the potential financial consequences of changing to a career they might really enjoy.
We all have only one ride around the sun. It’s our choice whether we select a ride we enjoy (even it isn’t the most financially advantageous), or one that scares or bores us (however much we earn). Having free will in broadly free, industrialized societies, means being able to choose wealth or social respectability over happiness—or the other way around.
If you truly love the ride you’re on, regardless of all the pressures, horrendous working hours, and terrifying ups and downs of the business roller coaster, what you have chosen is clearly right for you. You should ignore anyone who tries to tell you that it’s too risky or too demanding.
You are spending your one life doing something that you dislike—and often suffering as a result. It makes no sense.But, if you have all the fears, pressures, and frustrations—or you are bored to distraction much of the time—without the corresponding enjoyment of what you are doing, why are you still on that ride? Whatever the pressures, you are spending your one life doing something that you dislike—and often suffering as a result. It makes no sense.
Come the end of your individual ride around the sun, will it have been worth it?
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