Archive for the ‘Management’ Category

Service of Presidents: I’ve Worked for Great Ones

Monday, February 18th, 2019

Photo: maggievalleync.gov

It’s Presidents Day so I wanted to honor two great ones I worked for—both at PR agencies: John Havas and Bob Schwartz.

I’ll try to be brief—I see eyes glazing over as I type–though I could write pages about each.

I wasn’t at Havas’ shop long when he invited me to lunch to tell me that my job was not in jeopardy. He didn’t give details, which was appropriate, but he’d had to fire an account exec and didn’t want me to think I was next—last in first out. Another time he called in from a trip to learn that a supplier was asking about an unpaid bill. He immediately instructed the office manager to cut and mail the check. We got good prices from the suppliers—loyalty went both ways.

Photo: Groupon.com

A freelance person was doing the work I’d been hired to do. There was plenty for both of us. I had one weekend to get my arms around an account and its products and write a press kit full of releases for an impending press conference. That Monday the freelancer, Havas and the AE who seemed unable to do the job, met to review the material before sending it to the client for approval. After witnessing the snarky, nasty approach of the freelancer, who was trying to discredit what I’d written, he got up, said, “You all work this out among yourselves,” and left the room. She wasn’t around for long after that though had she not been so nasty she might well have been.

Havas ran the agency well and took the term profit sharing seriously—and so he shared. Another plus: I like the man.

Photo: linoit.com

Bob Schwartz ran the first agency I worked for which was one of the largest in the U.S. When he entered a room I thought someone had turned up the lights between his smile and presence. The agency made up a title for me when I joined—writer–after the magazine I worked for folded: I had zero PR and little relevant experience.

The agency had a major crisis minutes after I was promoted to AE. They discovered the billing department director had absconded with a large sum of money. My raise was delayed and when my boss told Schwartz she was afraid I’d leave, he had me in his office to assure me that the raise would be retroactive as soon as things settled down. Remember: I was at the bottom of a large totem pole but he wasn’t an arrogant president. He was the kind of boss who would pick up a secretary’s phone if he was walking by and nobody else was around and, in spite of his title, he rolled up his sleeves and collated the entry to the industry’s most prestigious award late into the night before the deadline–along with the others in the group.

Do you currently or have you worked for a great president?

Photo: pinterest.com

Service of Holacracy

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

 

Confusion

“Holacracy is a radically different management system that changes how an organization is structured, how decisions are made, and how power is distributed. 300+ organizations are already running with holacracy”– http://holacracy.org/

 

 

zappos 1The policy at Zappos, according to Rachel Emma Silverman, has been to pay a month’s salary to any new hire who wants to quit because Tony Hsieh, whom Silverman called “the leader,” only wants employees who are “truly excited” to work there. From one to three percent accept the offer. Now, for the same reason, he’ll pay at least three months severance to any employee who isn’t comfortable with a change in management structure and 14 percent—210 people–accepted the severance. Zappos is an online retailer, originally headquartered in San Francisco and now in Nevada, that sells shoes and clothing.

In her Wall Street Journal article “At Zappos, Some Employees Find Offer to Leave Too Good to Refuse,” I first heard about Holacracy. Silverman wrote: “The exodus comes amid the company’s transition to an unusual management structure called Holacracy, in which employees essentially manage themselves, without traditional bosses or job titles.”

Leaving the companySilverman continued: “The company has acknowledged that the transition to this new form of self-management has been a difficult one. In March, Mr. Hsieh sent a 4,700-word memo to staff stating that Zappos, an independent subsidiary of Amazon.com, was taking too much time switching to this new management structure.” That’s when he offered the severance.

On May 20th, Silverman wrote a front page Wall Street Journal article, “At Zappos, Banishing the Bosses Brings Confusion,” which goes into the concept more fully. In the second article Silverman quotes 26 year old Brironni Alex: “I am managing the work, but before I was managing the worker.” Silverman continued: “Ms. Alex says the changes give her more time for a workplace diversity committee and to perform on the Zappos dance team.” Alex is also on the team to convert the company to the new management system.

The article was illustrated by a wall of cut-off neckties because of the retailer’s “no neckties allowed” policy. I saw this at a steakhouse in Dallas, Texas some 20 years ago so I was surprised a company that tries to distinguish itself by being hip fell for such a tired idea.

It’s unusual enough to motivate employees to stay by paying them to leave. It will be interesting to follow the success of the self-management style which is great for self-starter types that most people claim they are during job interviews. Entrepreneurial types would also excel.

Have you heard of Holacracy before? Do you know anyone who has worked in such a management system? Have you instituted a new system or worked at a company that did? What was it like? Do you think people make such changes to keep employees alert and on their toes?

confusing management chart

Service of Responsiveness

Monday, April 1st, 2013

Speed of light

I’m all for acknowledging a client or colleague’s query with lightning speed if possible.  

I’m in a business that involves juggling so adding to communication the high velocity component that emails and texts do wasn’t as hard for me as it might be for, say, civil servants or postal workers with unmotivated managers.

bananaSplitBut there are limits. I have two friends whose boss—or bosses’ boss–have unrealistic expectations regarding responsiveness. Neither saves lives nor does their work involve hospitals, tow trucking, the fire or police department.

Apart from the fabricated stress they feel because they are expected to reply in split-seconds, they love their jobs. They are on tenterhooks long into the night 24/7 waiting for urgent emails or texts that demand information immediately.

In all cases they shared with me their responses could have waited until morning. Sometimes a question involved the input of a vendor available during daylight to early evening hours so there was no choice but to wait.

One boss, in a job with one deadline a year, makes herself feel important by creating false ones the rest of the time. The other doesn’t sleep much—three or four hours–and with nobody to speak with at home late at night he launches questions about facts or requests for additional analysis that his direct report would forward to my friend who is responsible for the nitty-gritty.

responding on smartphoneThe first friend has already changed jobs and the second is looking to do so.

This is why a paragraph in the middle of Michael M. Grynbaum and David W. Chen’s article, “Offstage, Quinn Isn’t Afraid to Let Fury Fly,” in The New York Times caught my eye. The Quinn in question is NYC mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, currently speaker of the New York City Council.

The reporters wrote: “Ms. Quinn’s aggressive style extends to private sessions with her staff, with whom she can be demanding. Her aides operate under a Quinn-imposed “15-minute rule”: e-mails or text messages from the speaker must be acknowledged within a quarter of an hour, or there will be consequences.”

urgentI cannot imagine that every thought that comes to Quinn’s head is crucial, urgent, pressing and vital. Can she prioritize? This is a crucial quality for a mayor. What’s the turnover on her staff that’s worn down unnecessarily? A consistent lineup of nubies doesn’t enhance performance in either an administration or department. If the staff is racing at a hysterical pace day-to-day, it can’t summon the energy to rise to a real emergency. Until I read this about her, Quinn was a top contender for my vote.

I am not impressed. People who work scared or feel used can’t do their best. Do you agree?

exhausted employee

Service of Telecommuting

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Telecommuting

Since I read about Yahoo’s HR director, Jackie Reses’ memo to all staff telling them that if they work at home they have until June to report to a desk at a Yahoo office fulltime, it’s been in the back of my mind.

Kara Swisher quoted Reses’ entire memo in her coverage on All Things D, “‘Physically Together’: Here’s the Internal Yahoo No-Work-From-Home Memo for Remote Workers and Maybe More.” An excerpt of that memo:

meeting“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”

Moving back to the office affects several hundred who currently work at home fulltime and Swisher reported that many others work remotely one or two days a week.

Playing SolitaireI try to attend board and committee meetings in person because I often discover helpful tidbits and back stories. When we all call in, or when I am forced to, I am distracted especially if someone drones on so I play solitaire; read emails or make “to do” lists.

There are exceptions such as weekly or monthly telephone conference calls with clients headquartered across town or country, a convenient way to update them, pose questions, propose solutions to challenges and most important to a consultant, hear about changes and plans—information some clients don’t otherwise have time to share.

During one of these calls the client casually referred to a product launch we were about to release to the press. He used an unfamiliar name for the line. None of us on the call knew that he’d changed its name and all of the approved press releases and photo captions with the original one were ready to go.

Some friends and colleagues who love working from home pass on job opportunities in which they must appear at an office. Others get to stay home with their babies one day a week—though they must have someone else to watch the child according to many employment agreements.

Telecommuting was once the Holy Grail, a paean to flexibility and squeezing the best out of staff and at the same time saving on the cost of office space. So why is the bloom off the rose–especially when you consider the numbers of easy and inexpensive ways there are of communicating and even seeing staff on screen in their at-home outposts?

Do you think people work better face-to-face and under one roof or doesn’t it matter?

Face to face

Service of Neighbors

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

tree1

We were on the Metro-North Railroad last week when the conductor told us how his neighbors came to his aid on Mother’s Day. We’d been discussing the huge cost of anything related to trees from trimming to removal and installation.

The conductor had bought his wife a tree to celebrate the occasion and after lunch went to dig the hole to put it in the ground. Soon he confronted what most of us find in the soil of Dutchess County, NY: Lots of stones, rocks and small boulders. A slight man, neither his shovel nor his muscles were up to the job.

treeplantingNoticing his dilemma, a neighbor came over with a bigger shovel and began to dig and soon there were two neighbors scooping out an appropriately big hole and lugging away the mini boulders. Our conductor ran for some beer and watched them finish the job, thankful that his tree was in place and that his only expense was a couple of beers.

This reminded me of a story a former managing editor of The Daily News told me years ago. The paper sent her to an intensive management course for a few days and she shared one of the instructor’s anecdotes. He told the class that at a cocktail party, one of his neighbors admired his vegetable garden and asked him if he might share his secrets. She invited him over to her house one Saturday and he ended up preparing the soil and planting the seeds while she watched.

A few weeks later she called to ask him if he might come over to tell him which were the weeds and which were the seedlings in her garden. As he weeded her garden, she sat on the porch sipping lemonade. “And this,” he said, “is an excellent example of management.”

What part of management is manipulation? Are helpful neighbors suckers for the most part? Do you feel good or like a chump when you help your neighbor either at home, at work or on a committee or board?

management

Service of Ka-Ching

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

vote

I voted in the New York Primary yesterday and was blown away by the new equipment and procedure. I heard the new system was either five or 10 years in the planning and cost multi millions of dollars. If I woke up this morning and someone told me I had until Friday to come up with a system, it would have been better.

All I could think of was “What’s the back-story? Who lobbied whom to get this deal?”lobbyist2

We used to walk into a booth, close a curtain, click some levers and out. The type was nice and big and at eye level.

I was handed a sheet of paper-It was very long and thin, and didn’t look like a standard size:  Ka-ching to the paper provider and the printer.

8thgradersI was sent to a booth that looked as though it had been made in shop by 8th graders. There was a pen [ka-ching to the pen vendor] and a plastic magnifier [ka-ching] because the print was extremely small. In NYC, the instructions are written in several languages which they don’t have to be in other parts of the state, but this takes up space. Formatting is key.

Instead, the ballot is poorly designed and very hard to figure out. The formatting got a zero grade. I think that those 8th graders might have done a better job.

I filled in the little dots [back to my SAT testing days] and walked to one of two scanners. The scanner attendant stood up to show me how to input the ballot. I was shocked and asked for confirmation-I had to slip in my ballot facing up! Talk about privacy? Don’t tell me nobody looks: The attendants had to confirm that voters didn’t mark the dots with a check or an x.

What happened to green sensibilities-tons of paper we never used before? And who is storing all these paper ballots now? [Ka-ching to the storage place.]

About 10 percent of voters showed up in New York for this primary. On WOR Radio 710 this morning, I heard that in some districts, the scanners ran into trouble. The scanner is set on a trashcan-like object that catches and stores the ballots. But in one district, in spite of the light turnout, the can was full and backed up the scanner. There were no spare cans available.

Mayor Bloomberg was beside himself because some districts were four hours late in opening up. “That is a royal screw-up, and it’s completely unacceptable,” he said.

I was going to call this column back to the future. I feel that this procedure has set voting procedure in New York decades back. The waste of paper, alone, makes me shiver. It smacks of loving hands at home, too many steps and no room to accommodate voters in the spaces they now use to vote such as school gymnasiums, church and synagogue basements.

Almost nobody was at the polling place last night when I voted, and yet I could hardly negotiate all the sign-in tables, voting cubbies that took up the center of the room and scanner. On a busy voting day, the synagogue basement is jammed with people. Where will they go? How will they move to the various stations much less line up? Will we be building places to accommodate voters or will we all be going to Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium?

If you vote in New York, how did you feel about the experience? Can you think of other instances in your life where new-and-improved turned out to be two steps back? 

 womenvote

Service of Skilled Labor

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

HM Byington wrote this guest post. Byington is a retired international banker and an officer of J M Byington & Associates, Inc.

The respected British popular historian, Paul Johnson, is the author of many thoughtful, well selling commentaries on the modern world and what many consider to be the finest history of Judaism ever written by a non-Jew.

In reply to a question asked him during a recent C-Span interview, he admitted that the unemployment problem in the United States (and by inference in Western Europe) was certainly caused in part by our having exported many jobs requiring skilled labor to the Third World.

However, he also argued that our unemployment woes would best be cured by our focusing our considerable intellectual competence and expertise in capital formation on inventing and selling new products and ideas to the rest of the world, instead of trying to retain, whether by subsidies, tariffs or other means, our traditional leadership as a dominant manufacturing nation.

This is not a new idea, and is one often put forward by politicians and business leaders to explain away the problems that the dismantling and exportation abroad of much of this country’s industrial base over the past 30 years have caused.

I strongly disagree.

Almost all new products are refinements of existing products. They come about because someone skilled and proficient in their manufacture has a bright idea about how to make something better. They do not come like lightning bolts out of some academic think tank.

A fine violin must be played regularly to maintain the beauty of its tone, and the mind is not dissimilar. A sharp mind remains sharp if used, and if pushed usually becomes even sharper. A skilled laborer remains skilled if he uses his skills as anyone who has learned a foreign language can attest. If you don’t use a language, you lose it.

There is also the psychological issue. Someone who is un- or under-employed is likely to face debilitating anxiety or even depression. A craftsman who can no longer practice his craft is in danger of losing his will as well as his skill.

Some 50 years ago, along with other young Foreign Service officers, I took part in a seminar at the Department of State at which a futurist made the point that the gravest problem that the United States would be facing in the next century would be its need to manage the massive leisure time that its citizens would be enjoying. I never forgot his prediction, and he turned out to be right!

Just take a look at how much time and money so many of us devote to seeing the latest in films, on television and in spectator sports, playing computer games, surfing the internet, talking on cell phones, listening on iPods, poking BlackBerries, twittering and blogging, attending theme parks, going on cruises, shopping at malls, and on the darker side, consuming social drugs and alcohol, or just sitting around. If government is not our most formidable industry, then leisure must be. Unfortunately people at leisure are likely neither to be skilled nor productive, and even worse, our young have learned to mimic them. (Witness the decline in educational standards in this country.)

I suppose one could argue that this will not be a real problem as long as those skilled people abroad now providing us with much of what keeps us happy (and lending us the money to pay them for it) will continue to go on doing what they are doing.

However, I believe that we are in far greater peril than we dare imagine. It is an inevitability of nature that the most skilled will always come to dominate the least skilled, and we live in a world of diminishing resources and expanding populations.

If we are to survive at least with some of the freedoms we still enjoy, we must at all cost rebuild our skilled labor force and defend it against the inroads of those who would put the making of short term profits before the long term well being of our society.

Does anyone agree with me?

 

Service of Ho Hum

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

New York-based editorial consultant and author, Mervyn Kaufman, sent this yesterday afternoon. It’s too great–and frustrating–not to share.

He wrote:

It’s the holidays.  Tourists are pouring into town, and stores are begging people to come in, use their supplied discount cards and buy something. Everywhere you go you find a holiday feeling. . . .

. . . Except at the post office. 

The U.S. Postal Service has repeatedly and shamelessly raised its rates while cutting back on its service.  One part of their enterprise is strictly business-as-usual, however: the people behind the bullet-proof glass are as indifferent as ever.  All appear to have been trained to move at a glacial pace, a deliberate attempt to engender anger and resentment.

Today, at my neighborhood branch, there was a serpentine line that almost reached the front door, but there were only two windows open, and the people manning them must have been champion exponents of post-office training:  I’ve never seen people move more slowly.

Yes, there was some attempt to manage the crowd, but whether you were a mother with a babe in arms or an elderly woman on a walker, you waited in an endless line while people were shipping off armloads of gifts to far-flung places.

Despite the fact that the holidays are predictably busy (and might I suggest profitable?) times for the U.S. Postal Service,  no additional manpower stood at the ready, and clerks went off willy nilly, to lunch or wherever, without so much as a nod to a woman-obviously a manager- whose earnestness was unmatched by any authority. 

Today’s visit (and 45-minute wait) registered as appalling and unnecessary.

There are plenty of competitors out there, plenty of firms eager to assume the lion’s share of Postal Service business.  Some, like UPS and FedExpress, are already doing so.  Others will surely come along to siphon even more post office business away.

Frankly, I couldn’t be happier.  I found today’s experience degrading…
and this is only the 7th of December.  What’ll it be like on, say, the 20th?  I’ll never know; I’ll restrain myself from setting foot in that place until some kind of desperation sets in.

Today I felt like a onetime Soviet consumer waiting in line for bread, for God’s sake!

What has your post office experience been of late–good or bad?

Service of Remodeling a Business Model

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Nancy Farrell, a fundraiser for a non-profit and a home improvement enthusiast–who says she “knows when to bring in professionals,”–shared a recent experience researching a home remodeling project.

It makes you wonder who is in charge of some companies and who is-and who isn’t-paying attention to business realities.

Nancy wrote:

You’d think with the economy the way it is that customer service would get better but it seems to be getting worse.

**Could it be that because of layoffs staff is stretched thin?

**That there’s bitterness over colleagues being let go in the first place?

**Or, indifference because people know that they can lose their jobs through no fault of their own?

**Maybe large companies are breeding workers who give canned responses and are not prepared to reply to different scenarios?

**General lack of training and supervision?

**Greed (companies that only want large, profitable jobs)?

“Here’s what happened to our family this past month. We went to a large home improvement store. Our powder room commode needed a new seal but we decided to take the opportunity to expand the room, replace the commode and the sink, replace the vinyl floor with stone, add beadboard and paint and recessed lighting and get the room up to code.

“We actually got help at the first place we went to but when we said we wanted the company to set up the contractors, the employee balked saying there needed to be a $5,000 minimum purchase on materials before we could be let into the “program.” In addition, we should be prepared for four months without the powder room.

“I’m not sure how many people buy commodes and install them themselves but rest assured that I do not possess the plumbing know-how. I’m not sure what the ‘program’ is either because we weren’t applying for or even using credit. And four months and $5000 in materials for less than 20 square feet of space-what are they thinking?

“The next large store we visited was devoid of help. So we left.

“On a whim, we stopped at a very small, independently-owned store specializing in kitchens and baths. The owner helped us choose materials and came to our house on a Saturday and discovered some extra space we didn’t know we had. He’ll be the contractor for the job and if all goes well we plan to ask him to bid on gutting and remodeling the kitchen. And with a house that is approaching its 100th birthday I have a lot of other jobs in mind.

“Note: Staff at the big store alluded to the fact they might have to ease up on the $5,000 minimum because of the economy while the small store guy said ‘business is great’ because people aren’t selling their houses-they’re updating them instead. I think his business is good because he doesn’t turn down small jobs.”

Have you come across inflexible businesses that are conducting commerce as though it was 2007 when the economy was relatively hunky dory?

Better yet, can you name and describe some that have benefited by welcoming opportunities, large and small, and figuring out how to make them profitable with an eye to the future?

Service of Transferring Skills

Monday, November 16th, 2009

LG is on hiatus from a high profile public relations job in New York City to work at raising three young children upstate. She recognizes how her business background and unruffled professional approach have helped her in two instances and sent along the following recent experiences.

Her account reinforces what we know: When you work with other people, the dynamics are the same no matter where you are or what you do. The subplot: We often create our own hurdles.

Troublemaker vs. Volunteer

LG wrote: “I am the class parent for Nicholas’ [first grade] room and my responsibilities include organizing and executing the parties, liaison between PTA, school administration and classroom and communicating classroom announcements to parents on behalf of the teacher.

“Letter # 1 went home with each child addressed to a parent or guardian-there are 25 children in the class. It was signed by the PTA president and it asked parents to return an e-mail address to me for future correspondence. I didn’t get a single response.

“Children brought home letter # 2 a week later. We again asked parents for their e-mail addresses, announced the date of the first classroom party–the Harvest Party–and requested a $5 donation towards all the year’s celebrations. Four people responded.

“Our Thursday Harvest Party, planned with the teacher, was a great success, we thought, until the evening after the event when I opened an e-mail from an irate parent who had obviously ignored both letters. She had made ‘treat bags’ and hadn’t let anyone know about them. Her angry e-mail was directed at me because I hadn’t sent a reminder–which would have been letter # 3–and she thought that the party was planned for Friday. She also had a litany of other complaints. [I was amazed that she’d unearthed my e-mail address.]

LG continued, “I took a deep breath and with my most highly polished professional PR approach wrote her a charming note explaining my previous actions-and those of the PTA president–and copied the teacher. I also pointed out that as her treats were for Halloween, which fell on a Saturday this year, she still had time to send them in with her child on Friday.

“In this e-mail, I again asked her if I can add her to my e-mail list and I invited her to help with the winter party. To date, I have not heard back from her.”

LG’s experience rang 10 bells with me. Countless times I’ve seen members of an association attack with petty criticisms the volunteers who had broken their necks to produce a smashing event in their often miniscule spare time. The whiner’s complaints usually ranged from menu and venue to speaker choices. Almost universally true: Ask the dissatisfied person to join the program committee so that the next event “is perfect” and in a blink she is down the elevator and out of the building faster than a roadrunner on speed.

Bearing Bad News-A No–And Picking Up the Pieces

LG continued with the second circumstance: “A neighbor’s son became quite ill last week. When I bumped into her in the street, she said that he was almost hospitalized, that doctors thought he had pneumonia, but he could have H1N1.

“She asked, ‘Can you drive my daughter to dance class with Mia?’ [LG’s daughter].

“I considered her request and thought about it some more because I wanted to help her out. But my husband and a good friend [both in healthcare] told me not to drive the child as the young girl could be a carrier of her brother’s germs. In addition, my baby had just been to the doctor for her 18 month well visit and received immunizations too. I was worried that she might be more susceptible to germs right now.  

“I could have jotted an e-mail response, but decided to wait for the chance to speak with her face to face–when I went to school to pick up the children. There I explained why I wasn’t comfortable driving her child.

“Meantime our mutual friend [the one in the medical field] got into the act. She told this mother to keep all her kids at home, and not to risk spreading what her son had in dance class or anywhere else.

“That evening the mother told me off in an e-mail. I was obviously influenced by our mutual friend, she wrote, and she underscored how upset she was. She concluded, ‘how could you do this?’

“So I again decided not to hide behind an e-mail–but instead to wait until the next day to respond in person. When we spoke, I asked her why she would put her anger and frustration in writing when she could have called me and we could have discussed our positions calmly. I diffused the situation and in the end, she apologized to me.”

E-mails are a great way to communicate, but there are times when speaking face to face is best, or at least  talking on the phone if it’s impractical to visit in-person. This is especially true when you are clearing the air or setting straight a misunderstanding, especially when you know the recipient isn’t going to be pleased with your decision and/or the situation is further complicated by someone else’s input.

In the last few months I have heard of tiny offices in which members of the small staff are encouraged–actually urged–to e-mail one another and are clearly discouraged to speak. Wonder where this will lead?

Can you share instances in which you wished you hadn’t written someone, but that you had spoken with them instead? How do you deal with uncooperative people who refuse to participate or do what’s necessary to get the facts yet are full of criticisms and blame?

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