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I loved my five-year stint with Costco! I worked hard and got paid very well. I bought my first home at just 22 when I was still in college. Costco even provided me with the opportunity to earn scholarships. The benefits were generous, my coworkers were nice, the year-end parties were fun, and hey...I even met my wife at Costco!
In my undergrad thesis entitled, "Countering Conventional Wisdom," I detailed Costco's struggle with investors on Wall Street who complained that the big box retailer pays its employees too much. It was through my research into Costco, and Jim Sinegal, that I truly came to appreciate the no-frills warehouse chain. Costco's business philosophy has impacted the way I work with people.
Costco rewards hard work. If you work really, really hard then Costco will pay you really, really well. Costco employees EARN their paychecks. The culture is all about hard work, if you don't pull your weight then you're gone - nothing personal. The only warehouses with unions are the ones that were acquired with Price Club back in the 1980's. Employees don't need unions because Costco treats it's employees fairly. I mean, they give employees a free turkey every year for Christmas!
Politics aside, it doesn't matter who the president is, Costco is great because of it's dedicated workforce and diligent leadership at the warehouse level and at the helm in Issaquah.
Because of the company that Jim built I was able to work my way out of poverty, buy a home, pay for advanced degrees, afford a family, and now give back to my community. Thanks for the opportunity Costco!
It’s a always a helpful reminder to make a list and check it twice.
I recently read Atul Gawande's Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. I must agree with the author, tragic mistakes can be sharply reduced with just 3 things:
I happen to use the iPhone Reminder App...and I use it daily.
I learned from Gawande that, “The volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, and/or reliably.”
It's hard to count on people. Can you relate? A select few I know I can always count on to follow through - they are the exception, not the rule. If you want to be a leader here's some advice:
For so many years I have made To Do Lists, or simple Checklists, to keep myself on track so I don’t forget basic basic tasks that I meant to do, but for some reason just omitted. I write down No-Brainer tasks which are STUPID but CRITICAL. I’ve been criticized for listing such mundane tasks, but simply stated, “It really helps me to remember to get it right!”
I can’t stand it when I don’t do something that is very easy, just because I had too much on my mind to remember to do it.
The excuses are endless: “It takes too much time to make a list,” or “What’s the point? If I forget to do something, then it wasn’t worth remembering.”
The truth is, checklists only take a few minutes to create and they have the potential to keep you on track for your entire workday. In addition, people (especially those who rely on you) really appreciate it when you do the things you say you will do (add your Ethos to the checklist while you’re at it).
Here's a thought, if your To-Do List gets too long, consider a Not Right Now List.
I figure if Pilots and Surgeons utilize checklists to get their jobs done, perhaps those of us serving in positions of leadership ought to follow suit.
This past week I shook a lot of hands. I attended several planning meetings, went to an economic summit for my county and last Saturday I weighed and tagged dozens of lambs and hogs for my 4H Livestock Program.
I had the opportunity to meet so many nice people. But then I got sick and couldn't hold a thing down for 12 hours. I don't regret meeting new people because folks from Southern Utah are the salt of the Earth in my opinion. Nevertheless, I feel obligated to report on my day's accomplishments.
It's rare when I actually get so sick that I'm stuck in bed, but I was able to spend my sick day becoming further enlightened by listening to TED Talks, one after the other all day long. If you're ever in a situation (like being ill) where you can't do much and you have Internet access, I highly reccomend listening to as many TED Talks as possible.
Here are a several that I enjoyed:
While I was listening to these talks, I still felt somewhat unproductive so I decided to crochet (yes I crochet, and I'm really freaking good at it too!) this cool beanie for my ski trip on Friday. It required 2688 stitches and took me about 6 hours.
This week a lot has come at me all at once. The looming question I always seem to have on my mind is, "What's the most important thing should I do next?"
Would you agree that this is not the most the most important decision of your day, but your career even?
I've learned that "What next?" used to be a question your boss or your clients would answer for you.
Today we have a multitude of opportunities, we also have so many constraints. Successfully deciding what to do next will be your moment of highest leverage. Would you agree that it deserves more time and attention than most people give it?
I really liked this thought by Seth Godin: If you're not willing to face the abyss of choice, you will almost certainly not spend enough time dancing with opportunity.
What am I going to do next? Well I'm going to do a lot of things, I'm starting my day organizing 2000 fourth graders so they can learn that their food comes from a farm, not a supermarket. I'm going to lead, serve and have fun doing it.
When making a decision about what to do next. Think about this:
Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.
If I understand it correctly, leadership is fundamentally about designing a way for people to contribute in making something remarkable happen. Therefore, it would be wise to study up on some ways to get work done effectively.
In this video, Jason Fried at 37signals shares some unconventional (yet very practical) insight into how he has designed a his company to get work done in the most productive ways possible.
Here are some key points I learned:
I love being and feeling productive! I love learning new ways to get more quality output in less time. This really helped me out significantly, I will think twice before interrupting someone while they're working.
So you've got big plans for the future...Great, so do I! A year or so ago, while I was reading Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk, I realized that I wanted to have a career sharing leadership and business principles. I think it would be fun and I like learning. I recognized that this dream was a long way down the road, but I had better get started doing something now.
So I follwed Gary's advice on branding yourself and started this blog writing about the things that I am interested in. I enjoy it, it's fun, and I'm learning.
I'm sure someday I will look back on this and be embarrassed. However, I've learned that if you're not launching too soon, you're launching too late. Or better put, if you're not embarrassed by your first version, you've launched too late.
In this video, Derek Sivers teaches that "Version 0.1" is the thing you can do right now to get started because "Version 4.8" will come eventually after much trial, error, and refining. The important concept to realize is that you'll never begin if you're trying to start with "Version 2.0". Apple launched the first iPad even though deep in the basement of their R&D Dept. they had a prototype of the iPad 6. The point is, you'll never launch if you're waiting until the product is perfect.
The landscape of business is ever changing. 2011 is halfway over and already so much has gone down. I imagine most management professionals out there would agree that the first two quarters have felt like a roller coaster.
It's been on my mind to revaluate my company's business plan amid all the changes as of late and create a new plan, budget, goals etc.
But then I got to thinking about the last plan I wrote...it was a great plan but in the middle of following it the economy drastically changed! Some competitors dropped off, many old customers disappeared, we gained new ones and had to learn how to serve their needs, our vendors tightened lines of credit, some of them disappeared too. It felt like we were running a totally different organization.
I've come to realize that business planning and forecasting (especially over the long-run) is really just guessing. There are way too many variables outside of what you can actually control, like: market conditions, your competition, your customers, the wonderful economy and so on. Throughout my years in business school and in almost all the classical publications I've read, managers are advised to write "business plans."
It sounds responsible, yes. But now I ask, "What’s the point?!"
Recently I read this article by Eric Markowitz, where he writes about Araceli Camargo's notion that planning is actually bad for business. Here's an excerpt:
Some research supports this claim. In 2007, The Wall Street Journal reported that “budding entrepreneurs can spend months, sometimes years, polishing elaborate 50- to 100-page business plans that include financial projections, market research, and intricate details on day-to-day planning and organization…But skeptics say there's little concrete evidence that extensive planning is highly correlated to success." Two years later, in 2009, The Journal clarified further, noting that "researchers found no evidence (emphasis added) that either the content or presentation of the plan influences venture capital-funding decisions."
Now I'm a HUGE planner. I'm constantly making plans in my life's personal pursuits - planning events, projects, and things you have control over is a great way to be a productive individual. But the problem I see with planning in the business world is this:
Writing a business plan makes you feel in control of things you really can’t control.
I've come to realize that business is all about improvising. You have to be able to take on an opportunity when it presents itself. I've also learned that you have the most information about a situation when you’re right in the thick of it. Planning before you’ve actually done it doesn’t make any sense; before is the worst time to make an important decision. This is often the reason why you feel incredibly overwhelmed after a long planning meeting.
I'm always thinking about the future and how I should solve problems that I see on the horizon. But I no longer feel like I need to write it down and obsess over it. I use to stress about keeping to business plans, financial projections, and stratagem…but it was a waste of energy because these are all just guesses! When you start to think about it like that, it's really not so serious.
I've decided I'm going to quit guessing. I'm just going to decide what I'll do this week and stop worrying about the rest of 2011. I'll start with the most important thing I can think of and move on from there. This sounds much better than following a plan blindly that has no correlation with reality.
Developing a culture of safety awareness that is focused on decreasing workplace injuries will reduce medical costs and worker compensation claims. Other side affects include: evading legal responsibility for negligence, increasing morale and productivity, as well as curtailing truancies. Sounds completely positive to me! Any HR professional would agree that a serious focus on safety is the right direction to head. So why aren’t most companies in a hurry to develop such a culture? Well, because it’s hard and you won’t see things change immediately.
Training employees to be safety conscious does not happen overnight, or even in a quarter. It’s a process that is built over the long term (start thinking in terms of ‘years’). It requires helping employees to keep safety on their minds at all times—which in turn requires continuous reinforcement and recognition of basic human psychology.
Safety has to be put into practice and not just talked about. The most effective way to communicate the significance of safety from management to employees is by swiftly responding once a safety issue arises. By doing nothing, or by being slow to respond, sends the message that “this whole safety initiative is not really as big of a deal as management says it is.”
Organizations learn very well from significant accidents. Of course when something significantly wrong happens, a task force is assigned and they get all over it. The mess gets cleaned up and everyone goes back to doing their normal jobs. But what about when the mishap is something small? Maybe something that could be swept under the rug and hidden? Well, organizations aren’t so good at learning from those mistakes, much less acknowledging them.
If the objective is to create a culture of safety awareness, then even the smallest accidents need to be addressed formally. Managers should be asking employees: How could this have been prevented? How should we handle this differently so it does not happen again?
A great way to increase safety and awareness of it is by collecting data (we’ve all seen the sign: “Insert number here” Days Without an Accident). In order to create a safe workplace there needs to be rewards for reporting. If there’s an incentive to report, you’re going to get a lot of input. This will make things seem like they’re getting worse, but they’re not…you’re just starting to learn about it. The positive side of providing rewards for reporting is that employees start to become engaged in the culture of safety awareness.
The essential idea in cultivating a culture of safety awareness in the workplace involves consistency and dedication to true change. If management really cares about safety, then when someone reports a problem, they pay attention, offer feedback and publicize it throughout the workplace.
Firing on all cylinders all of the time is not healthy. Giving 110% is not sustainable, even during times of rapid growth - which is also not sustainable. Maximum capacity is not a good thing for your psyche, just like 0% unemployment would not be a good thing for our economy. In my opinion, sometimes it's quite alright to be completely unproductive (of course one needs to earn that right first).
There's a popular statistic in the field of organizational behavior that basically says employees can get away with working at only 60% productivity and still keep their jobs. Therefore, through correct situational leadership practices a manager could potentially influence productivity by 30-35% (maximum productivity is really 95%, 110% is a myth).
If you happen to be a manager of people, it's important to realize that your coworkers and subordinates are also human...just like you! They will get burned out from time to time and their motivation, productivity, and creativity will lag just like yours does. This is indeed very frustrating for fresh managers because they often think if they tamper with this and fiddle with that, then maybe, just maybe, they'll be able to extract just a little bit more productivity from their workforce. This works, but it's counterfeit. You can only get away with insincere motivate for a short time before people start resenting you.
Don't quarrel with reality. I would venture to say that it is practically impossible to battle with the innate rhythm of productivity and motivation. It's not Ok to sit back and do nothing, although that is what most managers do by conveniently becoming busy with something else in hopes to avoid confrontation.
If you discover that a great employee has become disenchanted with their job, then talk to them about it. Get the issue out in the open. Maybe they just need a reassignment of duties, or maybe the issue stems from their personal life. If you can help, then help. If it's beyond your control, let the employee work out the problem on their own. The solution could be as simple as a sabbatical.