Over the past couple of months, I’ve been collecting some ideas that are useful in pulling apart business problems. In this post, I’ll share some of them:
Oxygen Mask Situations
In the past, I’ve written about how strategy is more about saying “no” than saying “yes”, but it’s rarely easy to explain the complex of reasons that underlie strategic decisions without reviewing the entire process. Richard Jalichandra, who was a participant in the NPR Digital Think In, manages to do so elegantly in his Venture Beat post entitled, Big changes coming at Technorati ”the CEO’s perspective“. In this article, he writes:
As a start-up with limited resources, we continually have to make difficult decisions about where to focus our efforts for the best return. Its like the oxygen mask the flight attendant tells you to put on before helping the person next to you: you can’t help anyone if you pass out first.
I think this metaphor is one of the simplest I’ve heard for reducing a potentially complex strategic decision into a tangible and emotional experience that almost anyone can relate to.
This topic has been written about at length, but I don’t see organizations thinking enough about where scaling boundaries will impact their business. In general, people in business are thinking about how to scale operations but they’re not necessarily focused on exploring the points are which things break due to scale. This is unfortunate because I think some of the most valuable insights come from understanding where these points are and why they’re there. For example, a certain kind of design firm might find that productivity goes up when they go from 5 to 15 people teams and then it drops off as you exceed 25. If this was the case, they might find ways of breaking projects up into parts that can be run by 10-15 person teams. Of course, you’d also want to ask how many of such teams can work together in a single location? And, what’s happening behaviorally that causing the performance barriers. Etc, etc. The point is that it’s often quickest to focus on where you know scale will break the system when trying to pull apart such problems.
Different kinds of teams need different stimuli to be productive, this year I ran into Shark Teams. These teams die if they stop moving. Obviously, I’m being literal here, but as a management principle these teams get in trouble if they’re not engaged. This is not to say that they don’t take vacations, or that they always work at the same pace, but they do best with a steady stream of workflow. One could also call these “heart teams” because once they stop they’re pretty hard to get going again. And, the harder they work the more fuel they give themselves.
“Do unto others as you would have done onto you” doesn’t seem to apply when it comes to management, though not as one you might expect. In my experience, People expect to be managed differently than they expect to manage people below them. Namely, the expectation seems to be less. In other words, people seem to feel more responsibility for managing those below them than they feel expectation for guidance from those above them. As this is based on entirely anecdotal evidence. I’d be interested to know if other people see this.
Don’t Unmotivate People
I believe I originally came across this idea in Jim Collin’s book Good To Great, The basic idea here is that it’s not management’s job to motivate workers, rather it’s management’s job is to remove things that unmotivate them. People are inherently motivated but get unmotivated by a variety of obstacles that they find in their paths. Remove those barriers and you’ve got a big part of management done.
A Sense Of Urgency
When most people think of “stress” it conjures up some painful memories or feelings, but stress isn’t always a bad thing. Most people are not familiar with the concept of eustress but it’s the opposite of distress. That is, eustress is a positive form of stress that actually increases our performance rather than decreasing it. Deadlines can actually be eustress for some people, for example, runners tend to convert the competitive stress of a race into increased performance. It’s possible to do this at work as well. Differentiating these kinds of stress, and monitoring which is being felt, can help teams align their relative stress levels and balance each other effectively.